Hegel’s Lectures on the History of Philosophy
Part One: Greek Philosophy. First Period, Second Division.
The Notion, which reason has found in Anaxagoras to be real existence, is the simple negative into which all determination, all that is existent and individual sinks. Before the Notion nothing can exist, for it is simply the predicateless absolute to which everything is clearly a moment only; for it there is thus nothing so to speak permanently fixed and sealed. The Notion is just the constant change of Heraclitus, the movement, the causticity, which nothing can resist. Thus the Notion which finds itself, finds itself as the absolute power before which everything vanishes; and thereby all things, all existence, everything held to be secure, is now made fleeting. This security — whether it be a security of natural Being or the security of definite conceptions, principles, customs and laws — becomes vacillation and loses its stability. As universal, such principles, &c., certainly themselves pertain to the Notion, yet their universality is only their form, for the content which they have, as determinate, falls into movement. We see this movement arising in the so-called Sophists whom we here encounter for the first time. They gave themselves, the name sofistai, as teachers of wisdom, i.e. as those who could make wise (sofizein). The learning of the Sophists is thus directly the opposite to ours, which only aspires to acquire information and investigate what is and has been — it is a mass of empirical matter, in which the discovery of a new form, a new worm, or other vermin is held to be a point of great importance. Our learned professors tire in so far much less responsible than the Sophists; however, Philosophy has nothing to do with this lack of responsibility.
But as regards the relation of the Sophists to what is ordinarily believed, they are, by the healthy human understanding, as much decried as by morality. By the former this is on account of their theoretic teaching, since it is senseless to say that nothing is; and in respect of practice because they subvert all principles and laws. For the first mentioned, things certainly cannot be left in this confusion of movement and in their negative aspect merely; yet the rest into which they pass is not the restoration of what is moved into its former condition of security, as if in the end the result were the same and the action were a superfluous one. Now the sophistry of common opinion, which is without the culture of thought and without scientific knowledge, is found in the fact that to it its determinations are, as such, held to be existent in and for themselves, and a number of rules of life, maxims, principles, &c., are considered as absolutely fixed truths. Mind itself is, however, the unity of these in many ways limited truths, which in it are all recognized as being present as sublated only, as merely relative truths, i.e. with their restrictions, in their limitation, and not as existent in themselves. Hence these truths to the ordinary understanding, are, in fact, no more, for on another occasion it allows and even asserts the opposite to have a value also for consciousness; or it does not know that it says directly the opposite to what it means, its expression being thus only an expression of contradiction. In its actions generally, and not in its bad actions, ordinary understanding breaks these its maxims and its principles itself, and if it leads a rational life, it is properly speaking only a standing inconsistency, the making good of one narrow maxim of conduct through breaking off from others. For example, a statesman of experience and culture is one who knows how to steer a middle course, and has practical understanding, i.e. deals with the whole extent of the case before him and not with one side of it, which expresses itself in one maxim only. On the other hand, he, whoever he is, who acts on one maxim, is a pedant and spoils things for himself and others. Most commonly it is thus. For example, we hear it said, “it is certain that the things that I see are; I believe in their reality.” Anyone can say this quite easily. But in fact it is not true that he believes in their reality; really he assumes the contrary. For he eats and drinks them, i.e. he is convinced that these things are not in themselves, and their being has no security, no subsistence. Thus common understanding is in its actions better than it thinks, for in action it is Mind as a whole. But it is not here known to itself as Mind, for what comes within its consciousness are definite laws, rules, general propositions, such as by its understanding are esteemed to be the absolute truth, whose limitation it, however, sets aside in action. Now, when the Notion turns to the riches which consciousness thinks to possess, and when the latter is sensible of the danger to its truth without which it would not be, when its fixed realities are destroyed, it is enraged; and the Notion which in this its realization applies itself to the common verities, draws hatred and disdain upon itself. This is the ground of the universal denunciation of the Sophists; a denunciation of healthy human understanding which does not know how else to help itself.
Sophistry is certainly a word of ill-repute, and indeed it is particularly through the opposition to Socrates and Plato that the Sophists have come into such disrepute that the word usually now signifies that, by false reasoning, some truth is either refuted and made dubious, or something false is proved and made plausible. We have to put this evil significance on one side and to forget it. On the other hand, we now wish to consider further from the positive and properly speaking scientific side, what was the position of the Sophists in Greece.
It was the Sophists who now applied the simple Notion as thought (which with Zeno in the Eleatic school had commenced to turn towards its pure counterpart, motion) to worldly objects generally, and with it penetrated all human relations. For it is conscious of itself as the absolute and single reality, and, jealous of all else, exercises its power and rule in this reality as regards all else, since this desires to be considered as the determinate which is Dot Thought. The thought identical with itself, thus directs its negative powers towards the manifold determination of the theoretical and the practical, the truths of natural consciousness and the immediately recognized laws and principles; and what to the ordinary conception is established, dissolves itself in it, and in so doing leaves it to particular subjectivity to make itself first and fixed, to relate everything to itself.
Now that this Notion has appeared, it has become a more universal Philosophy, and not so much simple Philosophy as the universal culture of which every man who did not belong to those devoid of thought, partook, and necessarily partook. For we call culture just the Notion as applied in actuality, in so far as it makes its appearance not purely in its abstraction, but in unity with the manifold content of all ordinary conceptions. But in culture, the Notion is the predominant as also the actuating, bemuse in both the determinate is recognized in its limits, in its transition into something eise. This culture became the general aim of education, and there were hence a number of teachers of Sophistry. Indeed, the Sophists are the teachers of Greece through whom culture first came into existence in Greece, and thus they took the place of poets and of rhapsodists, who before this were the ordinary instructors. For religion was no instructress, since no teaching was in it imparted; and though priests certainly offered sacrifices, prophesied and interpreted the sayings of the oracle, instruction is something quite different from this. But the Sophists educated men in wisdom, in the sciences, music, mathematics, &c., and this was their foremost aim. Before Pericles appeared in Greece, the desire for culture through thought and through reflection was awakened; men wished to be cultured in their ideas, and in their various relations to guide themselves by thought, and no longer merely through oracles, or through custom, passion, the feelings of the moment. For the end of the State is the universal, under which the particular is comprehended. Because the Sophists kept in view and enlarged upon this culture, they prosecuted teaching as a special calling, business, or profession, as an office taking the place of schools; they travelled round the towns of Greece, the youth of which was by them instructed.
Now culture is certainly an indefinite expression. It has, however, this meaning, that what free thought is to attain must come out of itself and be personal conviction; it is then no longer believed but investigated — in short, it is the so-called enlightenment of modern times. Thought seeks general principles by which it criticizes everything which is by us esteemed, and nothing has value to us which is not in conformity with these principles. Thus, thought undertakes to compare the positive content with itself, to dissolve the former concrete of belief; on one side to split the content up, and, on the other, to isolate these individualities, these particular points of view and aspects, and to secure them on their own account. These aspects, which are properly not independent, but only moments of a whole, when detached from it, relate themselves to themselves, and in this way assume the form of universality. Anyone of them can thus be elevated to a reason, i.e. to a universal determination, which is again applied to particular aspects. Thus, in culture, it is requisite that men should be acquainted with the universal points of view which belong to a transaction, event, &c., that this point of view and thereby the thing, should be grasped in a universal way, in order to afford a present knowledge of what is in question. A judge knows the various laws, i.e. the various legal points of view under which a thing is to be considered; these are already for him universal aspects through which he has a universal consciousness, and considers the matter in a universal way. A man of culture thus knows how to say something of everything, to find points of view in all.
Greece has to thank the Sophists for this culture, because they taught men to exercise thought as to what should have authority for them, and thus their culture was culture in philosophy as much as in eloquence.
In order to reach this double end, the Sophists were one in their desire to be wise. To know what constitutes power amongst men and in the State, and what I have to recognize as such, is counted as wisdom; and because I know the power, I also know how to direct others in conformity with my end. Hence the admiration that Pericles and other. statesmen excited, just because they knew their own standpoint, and had the power of putting others in their proper place. That man is powerful who can deduce the actions of men from the absolute ends which move them. The object of the Sophists has thus been to teach what is the mainspring of the world, and since Philosophy alone knows that this is the universal thought which resolves all that is particular, the Sophists were also speculative philosophers. Learned in the proper sense they hence were not, because there were as yet no positive sciences without Philosophy, such as in their aridity did not concern all mankind and man’s essential aspects.
They further had the most ordinary practical end, to give a consciousness of that which is involved in the moral world and which satisfies man. Religion taught that the gods are the powers which rule over men. Immediate morality recognized the rule of laws; man was to find satisfaction in conforming to laws, and was to assume that others also find satisfaction because they follow these laws. But from the reflection which here breaks in, it no longer satisfies man to obey law as an authority and external necessity, for he desires to satisfy himself in himself, to convince himself, through his reflection, of what is binding upon him, what is his end and what he has to do for this end. Thus the impulses and desires that man has, become his power; and only inasmuch as he affords them satisfaction does he become satisfied. Now the Sophists taught how these powers could be moved in empirical man, for the good as ordinarily recognized, no longer determined them. Rhetoric, however, teaches how circumstances may be made subject to such forces; it even makes use of the wrath and passions of the hearer in order to bring about a conclusion. Thus the Sophists were more especially the teachers of oratory, and that is the aspect in which the individual could make himself esteemed amongst the people as well as carry out what was best for the people; this certainly characterizes a democratic constitution, in which the citizens have the ultimate decision. Because, in this way, oratory was one of the first requirements for the rule of a people, or for making something clear to them through their ordinary ideas, the Sophists trained men for common Greek life, for citizenship and for statesmen, without appearing to prepare State officials for an examination in specific subjects. For the particular characteristic of eloquence is to show the manifold points of view existing in a thing, and to give force to those which harmonize with what appears to me to be most useful; it thus is the art of putting forward various points of view in the concrete case, and placing others rather in the shade. Aristotle’s Topica comes to mind in the connection, inasmuch as it gives the categories or thought-determinations (popouς), according to which we have to regard things in order to learn to speak but the Sophists were the first to apply themselves to a knowledge of these.
This is the position taken up by the Sophists. But we find a perfectly definite picture of their further progress and procedure in Plato’s Protagoras. Plato here makes Protagoras express himself more precisely respecting the art of the Sophists. That is to say, Plato in this dialogue represents that Socrates accompanies a young man named Hippocrates, who desires to place himself under Protagoras, then newly arrived in Athens, for instruction in the science of the Sophists. On the way, Socrates now asks Hippocrates what is this wisdom of the Sophists which he wishes to learn. Hippocrates at first replies Rhetoric, for the Sophist is one who knows how to make men clever (deinon) in speech. In fact, what is most striking in a man or people of culture is the art of speaking well, or of turning subjects round and considering them in many aspects. The uncultivated man finds it unpleasant to associate with people who know how to grasp and express every point of view with ease. The French are good speakers in this sense, and the Germans call their talking prattle; but it is not mere talk that brings about this result, for culture is also wanted. We may have mastered a speech quite completely, but if we have not culture, it is not good speaking. Men thus learn French, not only to be able to speak French well, but to acquire French culture. What is to be obtained from the Sophists is thus the power of keeping the manifold points of view present to the mind, so that the wealth of categories by which an object may be considered, immediately occurs to it. Socrates, indeed, remarks that the principle of the Sophists is not hereby determined in a sufficiently comprehensive way, and thus it is not sufficiently known what a Sophist is, “yet,” he says, “we have a desire to go on.” For likewise, if anyone wishes to study Philosophy, he does not as yet know what Philosophy is, else he would not need to study it.
Having reached Protagoras with Hippocrates, Socrates finds him in an assemblage of the foremost Sophists and surrounded by listeners, “walking about and like an Orpheus entrancing all men by his words, Hippias sitting meanwhile on a chair with not so many round him, and Prodicus lying amongst a great number of admirers.” After Socrates brought before Protagoras the request to have Hippocrates placed under his instruction, in order that he might by him be taught how to become eminent in the State, he also asks whether they might speak with him in public or alone. Protagoras praises his discretion, and replies that they act wisely to make use of this precaution. For because the Sophists wandered about the towns, and thus youths, deserting fathers and friends, followed them in view of improving themselves through their intercourse with them, they drew upon themselves much envy and ill-will — for everything new is hated. On this point Protagoras speaks at length: “I assert that the art of the Sophists is old; but that those of the ancients who practised it in fear of giving offence” (for the uncultured world is antagonistic to the cultured) “veiled and concealed it. One section, like Homer and Hesiod, taught it in their poetry; others, like Orpheus and Musaeus, through mysteries and oracles. Some, I believe, like Iccus of Tarentum, and the Sophist now living and unsurpassed — Herodicus, of Selymbria — in gymnastics, but many more — through music.” We see that Protagoras usually describes the end of mental culture as being to bring about morality, presence of mind, sense of order and general capacity. ke adds: “all those who feared envy arising against the sciences, required such veils and screens. But I think that they do not attain their end, for men of penetration in the State see the end appearing through, while the people notice nothing, and only quote the others. If people behave so, they make themselves more hated, and appear to be impostors. I have therefore taken the opposite way, and openly acknowledge (omologw), and do not deny that I am a Sophist “(Protagoras first used the name of Sophist), and that my business is to give men culture (paideuein).”
Further on, where the arts which Hippocrates was to acquire under Protagoras’ instruction were discussed, Protagoras answered Socrates: “What you ask is sensible, and I like to answer a sensible question. Hippocrates will not have the same experience that he would have with other teachers (sofistwn). These latter are at variance with (lwbwntai) their pupils, for they take them against their wills straight back to the arts and sciences which they just wished to escape, inasmuch as they teach them arithmetic, geometry and music. But he who comes to me will be instructed in nothing else than that in which he Comes to be instructed.” Thus the youths came freely, with the wish to be made men of culture through his instruction, and in the hope that he, as teacher, knew the way to succeed in so doing. As to his general aim, Protagoras says, “The instruction consists in bringing about a right perception and understanding (euboulia) of the best way of regulating one’s own family affairs, and similarly as regards citizenship, in qualifying men both to speak on the affairs of the State, and to do the best for the State.” Thus two interests are here apparent, that of the individual and that of the State. Now Socrates expresses dissent and surprise at Protagoras’ assertion as to imparting instruction in political aptitude. “I thought that the political virtues could not be learned,” for it is Socrates’ main tenet that virtue cannot be taught. And Socrates now brings forward the following argument, after the manner of the Sophists appealing to experience. “Those who are masters of the art of politics cannot impart that art to others. Pericles, the father of these youths, gave them instruction in all that instructors could teach; but not in the science for which he is celebrated; here he left them free to wander in the chance of their lighting upon wisdom. Similarly other great statesmen did not teach it to others, whether friends or strangers.”
Protagoras now replied that it could be taught, and shows the reason why great statesmen did not give this instruction, while he asks whether he is to speak as an elder to younger men in a myth, or whether he should give his reasons. The company left the matter to him and he began with the following myth of everlasting interest: “The gods commanded Prometheus and Epimetheus to adorn the world and confer on it its qualities and powers. Epimetheus imparted strength, power of flight, arms, clothing, herbs and fruits, but in some incomprehensible way he gave all to the beasts, so that nothing remained to men. Prometheus saw them unclothed, unarmed, helpless, when the moment came in which the form of man had to go forth into the light. Then he stole fire from heaven, the arts of Vulcan and Minerva, to equip man for his needs. But political wisdom was wanting, and, living without any common bond, they wore in a constant state of strife and misery. Then Zeus gave the command to Hermes to grant reverence” (natural obedience, honour, docility, respect of children for parents, and of men for higher and better natures), “and justice. Hermes asks, ‘How shall I impart them? To individuals, as particular arts are distributed, just ats some have a knowledge of medicine sufficient for assisting others?’ But Zeus answers that it must be to all, for no body of men (poliς) can exist if only a few partake of those qualities. And it shall be the law that whoever cannot acknowledge authority and justice must be exterminated as a plague to the State. Hence the Athenians when they wish to build, call builders into counsel, and when they contemplate any other business, those who have experience in it, but when they wish to come to a decision or make a regulation in State affairs, they admit all. For all must partake of this virtue or no State could exist. Thus if anyone is inexperienced in the art of flute-playing and yet professes to be a master in it, he is justly thought to be mad. But in justice it is otherwise; if anyone is not just and confesses it, he is thought to be mad. He must profess to be so, for every body must either share in it or be shut out from social life.”
For the fact that this political science is also so constituted “that everyone by education and diligence (ex epimeleiaς) may acquire it,” Protagoras gives additional reasons in the following argument: No one blames or punishes on account of a defect or evil that has come to anyone by nature or by chance. But defects and faults which can be removed through diligence, exercise and teaching are considered to be blameworthy and punishable. Impiety and injustice are of this description and, generally speaking, all that opposes public virtue. Men guilty of these sins are thus reproached; they are punished in the idea that they had the power to remove the wrong and still more to acquire political virtue through diligence and teaching. Thus men do not punish on account of what is past — excepting as we strike a vicious beast on the head — but on account of what is to come, so that neither the one who committed the crime nor any other misled by his example, should do the same again. Thus it is in this implied that virtue can be acquired through education and exercise.” This is a good argument for the teachability of virtue.
As to the statement of Socrates that men such as Pericles, who were famed for their political virtues, did not impart these to their children and friends, Protagoras in the first place says that it may on the other hand be replied, that in these virtues all men are instructed by all men. Political virtue is so constituted that it is the common province of all; this one essential for all men is justice, temperance, and holiness — in one word, whatever comprises manly virtue. In it no particular education from men of eminence is thus required. The children are from their earliest infancy exhorted and admonished to do what is good, and are accustomed to that which is right. Instruction in music and gymnastics contributes to temper the indulgence of self-will and pleasure, and to accustom men to conform to a law or rule; and the reading of the poets who enforce this does the same. When man steps outside this circle of education, he enters into that of the constitution of a State which likewise contributes to keep everyone within the bounds of law and order, so that political virtue is a result of the education of youth. But the objection that distinguished men did not impart their distinction to their children and friends, Protagoras answered secondly and very well as follows: “Let us say that in a State all the citizens had to become flute-players, all would be instructed in the art; some would be distinguished, many good, some mediocre, a few perhaps bad, and yet all would have a certain amount of skill. But it might very well be the case that the son of an artist should be a bad player, for the distinction depends on particular talents, and a particularly good natural capacity. From very skilful players very unskilful might descend, and conversely, but all would have a certain knowledge of the flute, and all would certainly be infinitely better than those who were quite ignorant of the art. Similarly all, even the worst citizens of a rational State are better and juster than citizens of a State where there is no culture nor justice nor law, in a word, where there is no necessity to bring them up to be just. For this superiority they have to thank the education given in their State.” All these are quite good examples and striking arguments which are not at all worse than Ciceros reasoning — a natura insitum. The arguments of Socrates and the development of these arguments are, on the contrary, examples based upon experience, and are often not better than what is here placed in the mouth of a Sophist.
What now confronts us is the question of how far this may be inadequate, and particularly how far Socrates and Plato came into collision with the Sophists and constituted the antagonism to them. For the claim made by the Sophists in Greece was that they had given a higher culture to their people; for this, indeed, great credit was ascribed to them in Greece, but they were met by the reproach that was encountered by all culture. That is to say, because the Sophists were masters of argument and reasoning, and were within the stage of reflective thought, they wished, passing from the particular to the universal, to awaken attention through examples and illustrations to what in his experience and to his mind appears to man to be right. This, the necessary course of free, thinking reflection, which with us has also been adopted by culture, must, however, necessarily lead beyond implicit trust and unrestricted faith in the current morality and religion. The statement that the Sophists thereby. fell into one-sided principles rests upon the fact that in Greek culture the time had not yet come when, out of thinking consciousness itself, the ultimate principles had become manifested, and thus there was something firm to rest upon, as is the case with us in modern times. Because, on the one hand, the need of subjective freedom existed merely to give effect to that which man himself perceives and finds present in his reason (thus laws, religious ideas, only in so far as I recognize them through my thought), on the other hand, no fixed principle had so far been found in thought; thought was rather reasoning, and what remained indeterminate could thus only be fulfilled through self-will. It is otherwise in our European world where culture is, so to speak, introduced under the protection and in pre-supposition of a spiritual religion, i.e. not of a religion of the imagination, but by pre-supposing a knowledge of the eternal nature of Spirit and of the absolute end, of the end of man, to be in a spiritual way actual and to posit himself in unity with the absolute spirit. Thus here there is a groundwork of a fixed spiritual principle which thus satisfies the needs of the subjective mind; and from this absolute principle all further relationships, duties, laws, M, are established. Consequently culture cannot receive the variety of direction — and hence the aimlessness — of the Greeks and of those who extended culture over Greece, the Sophists. As regards the religion of the imagination, as regards the undeveloped principle of the Greek State, culture was able to divide itself into many points of view, or it was easy to it to represent particular subordinate points of view as highest principles. Where, on the contrary, as is the case with us, a universal aim so high, indeed the highest possible, floats before the imagination, a particular principle cannot so easily reach this rank, even if the reflection of reason attains to the position of determining and recognizing from itself what is highest; for the subordination of special principles is already determined, although in form our enlightenment may have the same standpoint as that of the Sophists.
As regards content, the standpoint of the Sophists differed from that of Socrates and Plato, in that the mission of Socrates was to express the beautiful, good, true, and right, as the end and aim of the individual, while with the Sophists the content was not present as an ultimate end, so that all this was left to the individual will. Hence came the evil reputation obtained by the Sophists through the antagonism of Plato, and this is certainly their defect. As to their outward lives, we know that the Sophists accumulated great riches; they became very proud, and some of them lived very luxuriously. But in respect of the inward life, reasoning thought has, in distinction to Plato, this prevailing characteristic, that it makes duty, that which has to be done, not come from the Notion of the thing as determined in and for itself; for it brings forward external reasons through which right and wrong, utility and harmfulness, are distinguished. To Plato and Socrates, on the other hand, the main point is that the nature of the conditions should be considered, and that the Notion of the thing in and for itself should become evolved. Socrates and Plato wished to bring forward this Notion as opposed to the consideration of things from points of view and reasonings which are always merely particular and individual, and thus opposed to the Notion itself. The distinction in the two points of view is thus that cultured reasoning only belongs, in a general way, to the Sophists, while Socrates and Plato determined thought through a universal determination (the Platonic Idea), or something fixed, which mind finds eternally in itself.
If sophistry is bad in the sense that it signifies a quality of which only bad men are guilty, it is at the same time much more common than this would imply; for all argumentative reasoning, adducing of arguments and counterarguments, bringing into prominence particular points of view, is sophistry. And just as utterances of the Sophists are adduced against which nothing can be said (as they are by Plato), men of our day are urged to all that is good for the very reasons that are reasons to the Sophists. Thus it is said, “do not cheat, else you lose your credit, hence your wealth,” or, “be temperate, or you will spoil your appetite and have to suffer.” Or for punishment men give the external reasons of improvement, &c.; or else an action is defended on external grounds taken from the result. If, on the other hand, firmly rooted principles lie at the foundation — as in the Christian Religion, although men now remember this no longer — it is said, “the grace of God in respect of holiness, &c., thus directs the life of men;” and these external grounds fall away. Sophistry thus does not lie so far from us as we think. When educated men discuss matters now-a-days, it may seem all very good, but it is in no way different from what Socrates and Plato called sophistry — although they themselves have adopted this standpoint as truly as did the Sophists. Educated men fall into it when they judge of concrete cases in which a particular point of view determines the result, and we must in ordinary life do the same if we wish to make up our minds in action. If duties and virtues are advocated as in sermons (this is so in most sermons), we must hear such reasons given. Other speakers, such as those in parliament, likewise make use of arguments and counter-arguments similar to these, through which they try to persuade and convince. On the one hand something definite is in question, such as the constitution, or a war, and from the fixed direction thus given, certain provisions have to be deduced consistently; but this consistency, on the other, soon disappears, just because the matter can be arranged either this way or that, and thus particular points of view always are decisive. Men likewise make use of good arguments, after the manner of the Sophists, against Philosophy. There are, they say, various philosophies, various opinions. and this is contrary to the one Truth; the weakness of human reason allows of no knowledge. What is Philosophy to the feelings, mind, and heart? Abstract thinking about such matters produces abstruse results which are of no use in the practical life of man. We no longer apply the word sophistry thus, but it is the way of the Sophists not to take things as they are, but to bring about their proofs by arguments derived from feelings as ultimate ends. We shall see this characteristic of the Sophists more clearly still in Socrates and Plato.
With such reasoning men can easily get so far as to know (where they do not, it is owing to the want of education — but the Sophists were very well educated) that if arguments are relied upon, everything can be proved by argument, and arguments for and against can be found for everything; as particular, however, they throw no light upon the universal, the Notion. Thus what has been considered the sin of the Sophists is that they taught men to deduce any conclusion required by others or by themselves; but that is not due to any special quality in the Sophists, but to reflective reasoning. In the worst action there exists a point of view which is essentially real; if this is brought to the front, men excuse and vindicate the action. In the crime of desertion in time of war, there is, for example, the duty of self-preservation. Similarly in more modern times the greatest crimes, assassination, treachery, &c., have been justified, because in the purpose there lay a determination which was actually essential, such as that men must resist the evil and promote the good. The educated man knows how to regard everything from the point of view of the good, to maintain in everything a real point of view. A man does not require to make great progress in his education to have good reasons ready for the worst action; all that has happened in the world since the time of Adam has been. justified by some good reason.
It appears that the Sophists were conscious of this reasoning, and knew, as educated men, that everything could be proved. Hence in Plato’s Gorgias it is said that the art of the Sophists is a greater gift than any other; they could convince the people, the senate, the judges, of what they liked. The advocate has similarly to inquire what arguments there are in favour of the party which claims his help, even if it be the opposite one to that which he wished to support. That knowledge is no defect, but is part of the higher culture of the Sophists; and if uneducated men naturally form conclusions from external grounds which are those alone coming to their knowledge, they may perhaps be mainly determined by something besides what they know (by their integrity, for instance). The Sophists thus knew that on this basis nothing was secure, because the power of thought treated everything dialectically. That is the formal culture which they had and imparted, for their acquaintanceship with so many points of view shook what was morality in Greece (the religion, duties, and laws, unconsciously exercised), since. through its limited content, that came into collision with what was different. Once it was highest and ultimate, then it was deposed. Ordinary knowledge thus becomes confused, as we shall see very clearly in Socrates, for something is held to be certain to consciousness, and then other points of view which are also present and recognized, have similarly to be allowed; hence the first has no further value, or at least loses its supremacy. We saw in the same way, how bravery, which lies in the hazarding of one’s life, is made dubious by the duty of preserving life, if put forward unconditionally. Plato quotes several examples of this unsettling tendency, as when he makes Dionysodorus maintain: “Whoever gives culture to one who does not possess knowledge, desires that he should no longer remain what he is. He desires to direct him to reason, and this is to make him not the same as he is.” And Euthydemus, when the others say that he lies, answers, “Who lies, says what is not; men cannot say what is not, and thus no one can lie.” And again Dionysodorus says, “You have a dog, this dog has young, and is a father; thus a dog is your father, and you are brother to its young.” Sequences put together thus are constantly found in critical treatises.
With this comes the question which the nature of thought brings along with it. If the field of argument, that which consciousness holds to be firmly established, is shaken by reflection, what is man now to take as his ultimate basis? For something fixed there must be. This is either the good, the universal, or the individuality, the arbitrary will of the subject; and both may be united, as is shown later on in Socrates. To the Sophists the satisfaction of the individual himself was now made ultimate, and since they made everything uncertain, the fixed point was in the assertion, “it is my desire, my pride, glory, and honour, particular subjectivity, which I make my end.” Thus the Sophists are reproached for countenancing personal affections, private interests, &c. This proceeds directly from the nature of their culture, which, because it places ready various points of view, makes it depend on the pleasure of the subject alone which shall prevail, that is, if fixed principles do not determine. Here the danger lies. This takes place also in the present day where the right and the true in our actions is made to depend on good intention and — on my own conviction. The real end of the State, the best administration and constitution, is likewise to demagogues very vague.
On account of their formal culture, the Sophists have a place in Philosophy; on account of their reflection they have not. They are associated with Philosophy in that they do not remain at concrete reasoning, but go on, at least in part, to ultimate determinations. A chief part of their culture was the generalization of the Eleatic mode of thought and its extension to the whole content of knowledge and of action; the positive thus comes in as, and has become, utility. To go into particulars respecting the Sophists would lead us too far; individual Sophists have their place in the general history of culture. The celebrated Sophists are very numerous; the most celebrated amongst them are Protagoras, Gorgias, and also Prodicus, the teacher of Socrates, to whom Socrates ascribes the well-known myth of “The choice of Hercules” — an allegory, beautiful in its own way, which has been repeated hundreds and thousands of times. I will deal only with Protagoras and Gorgias, not from the point of view of culture, but in respect of proving further how the general knowledge which they extended to everything, has, with one of them, the universal form which makes it pure science. Plato is the chief source of our acquaintanceship with the Sophists, for he occupied himself largely with them; then we have Aristotle’s own little treatise on Gorgias; and Sextus Empiricus, who preserved for us much of the philosophy of Protagoras.
Protagoras, born at Abdera, was somewhat older than Socrates; little more is known of him, nor, indeed, could there be much known. For he led a uniform life, since he spent it in the study of the sciences; he appeared in Greece proper as the first public teacher. He read his writings 2 like the rhapsodists and poets, the former of whom sang the verses of others, and the latter their own. There were then no places of learning, no books from which men could be taught, for to the ancients, as Plato says, “the chief part of culture” (paideiaς) “consisted in being skilled” (deinon) “in poetry,” just as with us fifty years ago the principal instruction of the people consisted of Bible History and Biblical precepts. The Sophists now gave, in place of a knowledge of the poets, an acquaintanceship with thought. Protagoras also came to Athens and there lived for long, principally with the great Pericles, who also entered into this culture. Indeed, the two once argued for a whole day as to whether the dart or the thrower or he who arranged the contest was guilty of the death of a man who thus met his death. The dispute is over the great and important question of the possibility of imputation; guilt is a general expression, the analysis of which may undoubtedly become a difficult and extensive undertaking.
In his intercourse with such men, Pericles developed his genius for eloquence; for whatever kind of mental occupation may be in question, a cultivated mind can alone excel in it; and true culture is only possible through pure science. Pericles was a powerful orator, and we see from Thucydides how deep a knowledge he had of the State and of his people. Protagoras had the same fate as Anaxagoras, in being afterwards banished from Athens. The cause of this sentence was a work written by him beginning, “As to the gods, I am not able to say whether they are or are not; for there is much which prevents this knowledge, both in the obscurity of the matter, and in the life of man which is so short..” This book was also publicly burned in Athens by command of the State, and, so far as we know, it was the first to be treated so. At the age of seventy or ninety years Protagoras was drowned while on a voyage to Sicily.
Protagoras was not, like other Sophists, merely a teacher of culture, but likewise a deep and solid thinker, a philosopher who reflected on fundamental determinations of an altogether universal kind. The main point in his system of knowledge he expressed thus: “Man is the measure of all things; of that which is, that it is; of that which is not, that it is not.” 2 On the one hand, therefore, what had to be done was to grasp thought as determined and as having content; but, on the other, to find the determining and content-giving; this universal determination then becomes the standard by which everything is judged. Now Protagoras’ assertion is in its real meaning a great truth, but at the same time it has a certain ambiguity, in that as man is the undetermined and many-sided, either he may in his individual particularity, as this contingent man, be the measure, or else self-conscious reason in man, man in his rational nature and his universal substantiality, is the absolute measure. If the statement is taken in the former sense, all is self-seeking, all self-interest, the subject with his interests forms the central point; and if man has a rational side, reason is still something subjective, it is “he.” But this is just the wrong and perverted way of looking at things which necessarily forms the main reproach made against the Sophists — that they put forward man in bis contingent aims as determining; thus with them the interest of the subject in its particularity, and the interest of the same in its substantial reason are not distinguished.
The same statement is brought forward in Socrates and Plato, but with the further modification that here man, in that he is thinking and gives himself a universal content, is the measure. Thus here the great proposition is enunciated on which from this time forward, everything turns, since the further progress of Philosophy only explains it further.. it signifies that reason is the end of all things. This proposition further expresses a very remarkable change of position in asserting that all content, everything objective, is only in relation to consciousness; thought is thus in all truth expressed as the essential moment, and thereby the Absolute takes the form of the thinking subjectivity which comes before us principally in Socrates. Since man, as subject, is the measure of everything, the existent is not alone, but is for my knowledge. Consciousness is really the producer of the content in what is objective, and subjective thinking is thus really active. And this view extends even to the most modern philosophy, as when, for instance, Kant says that we only know phenomena, i.e. that what seems to us to be objective reality, is only to be considered in its relation to consciousness, and does not exist without this relation. The fact that the subject as active ard determining. brings forth the content, is the important matter, but now the question comes as to how the content is further determined — whether it is limited to the particularity of consciousness or is determined as the universal, the existent in and for itself. God. the Platonic Good, is certainly at first a product of thought, but in the second place He is just as really in and for Himself. Since I, as existent, fixed and eternal, only recognize what, is in its content universal, this, posited as it is by me, is likewise the implicitly objective, not posited by me.
Protagoras himself shows us much more of what is implied in his theory, for he says, “Truth is a manifestation for consciousness. Nothing is in and for itself one, but everything has a relative truth only,” i.e. it is what it is but for another, which is man. This relativity is by Protagoras expressed in a way which seems to us in some measure trivial, and belongs to the first beginnings of reflective thought. The insignificant examples which he adduces (like Plato and Socrates when they follow out in them the point of view of reflection), by way of explanation, show that in Protagoras’ understanding what is determined is not grasped as the universal and identical with self. Hence the exemplifications are taken mostly from sensuous manifestation. “In a wind it may be that one person is cold and another is not; hence of this wind we cannot tell whether in itself it is cold or hot.” Frost and heat are thus not anything which exist, but only are in their relation to a subject; were the wind cold in itself, it would always be so to the subject. Or again, “if we have here six dice, and place by them four others, we should say of the former that there are more of them. But, again, if we put twelve by them we say that these first six are the fewer.” Because we say of the same number that it is more and fewer, the more and the less is merely a relative determination; thus what is the object, is so in the idea present to consciousness only. Plato, on the contrary, considered one and many, not like the Sophists in their distinction., but as being one and the same.
Plato says further on this point, that the white, warm, &c., or everything that we say of things, does not exist for itself, but that the eye, sensation, is necessary to make it for us. This reciprocal movement is what first creates the white, and in it the white is not a thing in itself, but what we have present is a seeing eye, or, to speak generally, sight, and particularly the seeing of white, the feeling of warmth, &c. Undoubtedly warmth, colour, &c. really are only in relation to another, but the conceiving mind divides itself into itself and into a world in which each also has its relation. This objective relativity is expressed better in the following way. If the white were in itself, it would be that which brought forth the sensation of it; it would be the action or the cause, and we, on the contrary, the passive and receptive. But the object which thus requires to be active. is not active until it enters into (xunelqh) relation with the passive; similarly the passive is only in relation to the active. Thus what is said in defining anything never concerns the thing as in itself, but clearly only as being related to something else. Nothing is thus constituted in and for itself as it appears, but the truth is just this phenomenon to which our activity contributes. As things appear to the healthy man they are thus not in themselves, but for him; as they appear to the sick or deranged man, they are to him, without our being able to say that as they appear to him, they are not true. We feel the awkwardness of calling any such thing true, for after all the existent, if related to consciousness, is yet not related to it as fixed, but to sensuous knowledge,; and then this consciousness itself is a condition, i.e. something which passes away. Protagoras rightly recognized this double relativity when he says, “Matter is a pure flux, it is not anything fixed and determined in itself, for it can be everything, and it is different to different ages and to the various conditions of waking and sleep, &c.” Kant separates himself from this standpoint only in that he places the relativity in the “I,” and not in objective existence. The phenomenon is, according to him, nothing but the fact of there being outside an impulse, an unknown x, which first receives these determinations through our feeling. Even if there were an objective ground for our calling one thing cold and another warm, we could indeed say that they must have diversity in themselves. but warmth and cold first become what they are in our feeling. Similarly it can only be in our conception that things are outside of us, etc. But if the experience is quite correctly called a “phenomenon,” i.e. something relative, because it does not come to pass without the determinations of the activity of our senses, nor without categories of thought, yet that one, all-pervading, universal, which permeates all experience, which to Heraclitus was necessity, has to be brought into consciousness.
We see that Protagoras possesses great powers of reflective thought, and indeed reflection on consciousness came to consciousness with Protagoras. But this is the form of manifestation which was again taken by the later sceptics. The phenomenal is not sensuous Being, for because I posit this as phenomenal. I assert its nullity. But the statements “What is, is only for consciousness,” or “The truth of all things is the manifestation of them in and for consciousness,” seem quite to contradict themselves. For it appears as though a contradiction were asserted — first that nothing is in itself as it appears, and then that it is true as it appears. But objective significance must not be given to the positive, to what is true, as if, for example, this were white in itself because it appears so; for it is only this manifestation of the white that is true, the manifestation being just this movement of the self-abrogating sensuous Being, which, taken in the universal, stands above consciousness as truly as above Being. The world is consequently not only phenomenal in that it is for consciousness, and thus that its Being is only one relative to consciousness, for it is likewise in itself phenomenal. The element of consciousness which Protagoras has demonstrated, and owing to which the developed universal has in it the moment of the negative Being-for-another, has thus indeed to be asserted as a necessary moment; but taken for itself, alone and isolated, it is one-sided, since the moment of implicit Being is likewise essential.
This scepticism reached a much deeper point in Gorgias of Leontium. in Sicily, a man of great culture, and also distinguished as a statesman. During the Peloponnesian war he was, in 01. 88, 2 (427 B.C.), a few years after Pericles’ death in Ol. 87, 4, sent from his native town to Athens. And when he attained his object, he went through many other Greek towns, such as Larissa in Thessaly, and taught in them. Thus he obtained great wealth, along with much admiration, and this lasted till his death at over a hundred years of age.
He is said to have been a disciple of Empedocles, but he also knew the Eleatics, and his dialectic partakes of the manner and method of the latter; indeed Aristotle, who preserves this dialectic, in the work De Xenophane, Zenone et Gorgia, which has indeed only come to us in fragments, deals with them together. Sextus Empiricus also gives us in full the dialectic of Gorgias. He was strong in the dialectic requisite for eloquence, but his pre-eminence lies in his pure dialectic respecting the quite universal categories of Being and non-being, which indeed is not like that of the Sophists. Tiedemann (Geist. der Spec. Phil. vol. I. p. 362) says very falsely: “Gorgias went much further than any man of healthy mind could go.” Tiedemann could say of every philosopher that he went further than healthy human understanding, for what men call healthy understanding is not Philosophy, and is often far from healthy. Healthy human understanding possesses the modes of thought, maxims, and judgments of its time, the thought-determinations of which dominate it without its being conscious thereof. In this way Gorgias undoubtedly went further than healthy understanding. Before Copernicus it would have been contrary to all healthy human understanding if anyone had said that the earth went round the sun, or before the discovery of America, if it were said that there was a continent there. In India or in China a republic would even now be contrary to all healthy understanding. The dialectic of Gorgias moves more purely in Notion than that found in Protagoras. Since Protagoras asserted the relativity, or the non-implicit nature of all that is, this only exists in relation to another which really is essential to it; and this last, indeed, is consciousness. Gorgias’ demonstration of the non-implicitness of Being is purer, because he takes in itself what passes for real existence without pre-supposing that other, and thus shows its own essential nullity and separates therefrom, the subjective side and Being as it is for the latter.
Gorgias’ treatise “On Nature,” in which he composes his dialectic, falls, according to Sextus Empiricus (adv. Math. VII. 65), into three parts. “In the first he proves that” (objectively) “nothing exists, in the second” (subjectively), “that assuming that Being is, it cannot be known; and in the third place” (both subjectively and objectively), “that were it to exist and be knowable, no. communication of what is known would be possible.” Gorgias was a congenial subject to Sextus, but the former still proved, and this is what the Sceptics ceased to do. Here very abstract thought-determinations regarding the most speculative moments of Being and non-being, of knowledge, and of bringing into existence, of communicating knowledge, are involved; and this is no idle talk, as was formerly supposed, for Gorgias’ dialectic is of a quite objective kind, and is most interesting in content.
a. “If anything is,” (this “anything” is, however, a makeshift that we are in the habit of using in our conversation, and which is, properly speaking, inappropriate, for it implies an opposition of subject and predicate, while at present the “is” alone is in question) — then “if it is” (and now it becomes for the first time defined as subject) “it is either the existent or the non-existent, or else existence and non-existence. It is now evident of these three that they are not.”
a. “That which is not, is not; for if Being belonged to it, there would at the same time be existence and non-existence. That is, in so far as it is thought of as nonexistent, it is not; but in so far as it is the non-existent, it must exist. But it cannot at the same time be and not be. Again, if the non-existent is, the existent is not, for the two are opposed. Thus, if Being pertained to non-being, non-being would belong to Being. But if Being does not exist, no more does non-being.” 2 This is with Gorgias a characteristic mode of reasoning.
b. “But in proving,” Aristotle adds to the passages just quoted, “that the existent is not, he follows Melissus and Zeno.” This is the dialectic already brought forward by them. “If Being is, it is contradictory to predicate a quality to it, and if we do this, we express something merely negative about it.”
aa. For Gorgias says: “What is, either is in itself (aidion) being without beginning, or it has originated,” and he now shows that it could neither be the one nor the other, for each leads to contradiction. “It cannot be the former, for what is in itself has no beginning, and is the infinite,” and hence likewise undetermined and indeterminable. “The infinite is nowhere, for if it is anywhere, that in which it is, is different from it.” Where it is, it is in another, “but that is not infinite which is different from another, and contained in another. Just as little is it contained in itself, for then that in which it is, and that which is therein, would be the same. What it is in, is the place; that which is in this, is the body; but that both should be the same is absurd. The infinite does not thus exist.” This dialectic of Gorgias regarding the infinite is on the one hand limited, because immediate existence has certainly no beginning and ino limit, but asserts a progression into infinitude; the self-existent Thought, the universal Notion, as absolute negativity, has. however, limits in itself. On the other hand, Gorgias is quite right, for the bad, sensuous infinite is nowhere present, and thus does not exist, but is a Beyond of Being; only we may take what Gorgias takes as a diversity of place, as being diversity generally. Thus, instead of placing the infinite, like Gorgias, sometimes in another, sometimes within itself, i.e. sometimes maintaining it to be different, sometimes abrogating the diversity, we may say better and more universally, that this sensuous infinite is a diversity which is always posited as different from the existent, for it is just the being different from itself.
“In the same way Being has not originated, because it must then have come either from the existent or from the non-existent. From the existent it did not arise, for then it would be already; just as little from the non-existent, because this cannot beget anything.” The sceptics followed this up further. The object to be contemplated hence ever becomes posited under determinations with ‘either’ ‘or,’ which then contradict one another. But that is not the true dialectic, because the object resolves itself into those determinations only; when nothing follows respecting the nature of the object itself, then, as is already proved, the object must be necessarily in one determination, and not in and for itself.
bb. In a similar way Gorgias shows “of what exists, that it must either be one or many; but neither is possible. For as one, it would have a certain magnitude, or continuity, or number, or body, but all this is not one, but different, divisible. Every sensuous one is, in fact, necessarily another, a manifold. “If it is not one, it cannot be many, for the many is many ones.”
g. “Similarly both, Being and non-being, cannot exist at the same time. If one exists as much as the other, they are the same, and therefore neither of them is, for the non-being does not exist, and hence neither does the Being, since it is identical with it. Nor can they, on the other band, both exist, for if they are identical, I cannot express them both,” and thus both do not exist, for if I express both, I differentiate. This dialectic, which Aristotle (De Xenoph. &c., c. 5) likewise designates as peculiar to Gorgias, has its truth. In speaking of Being and non-being. we always say the opposite to what we wish. Being and non-being are the same, just as they are not the same; if they are the same, I speak of the two as different if different, I express the same predicate of them, diversity. This dialectic is not to be despised by us, as if it dealt with empty abstractions. for these categories are, on the one hand, in their purity the most universal, and if, on the other hand, they are not the ultimate, yet it is always Being or non-being that are in question; they are not, however, definitely fixed and divided off, but are self-abrogating. Gorgias is conscious that they axe vanishing moments, while the ordinary unconscious conception also has present to it this truth, but knows nothing about it.
b. The relation of the conceiver to conception, the difference between conception and Being, is a subject which is in our mouths to-day. “But if there is an ‘is,’ it is unknowable and unthinkable, for what is presented is not the existent” but only a presentation. “If what is presented is white, it is the case that white is presented; if what is presented is not the really existent, it is the case that what is, is not presented. For if what is presented is the real existent, everything that is presented also exists, but no one says that if a flying man, or waggon riding on the sea were presented to us, it would exist. Further, if what is presented is the existent, the non-existent is not presented, for opposites are in opposition. But this non-existent is everywhere presented as it is in Scylla and the Chimæra. Gorgias on the one hand pronounces a just polemic against absolute realism, which, because it represents, thinks to possess the very thing itself, when it only has a relative, but he falls, on the other hand, into the false idealism of modern times, according to which thought is always subjective only, and thus not the existent, since through thought an existent is transformed into what is thought.
c. We finally have the basis of the dialectic of Gorgias in respect of the third point, that knowledge cannot be imparted, in this: “If the existent were presented, it could still not be expressed and imparted. Things are visible, audible, &c., or are experienced. The visible is grasped through sight, the audible through hearing, and not the contrary way; thus, the one cannot be indicated by the other. Speech, by which the existent has to be expressed, is not the existent; what is imparted is thus not the existent, but only words. In this manner Gorgias’ dialectic is the laying hold of this difference exactly as again occurred in Kant; if I maintain this difference, certainly that which is, cannot be known.
This dialectic is undoubtedly impregnable to those who maintain sensuous Being to be real. But its truth is only this movement to posit itself negatively as existent, and the unity is the reflection that the existent, comprehended also as non-existent, becomes, in this comprehension of it, universal. That this existent cannot be imparted, must likewise be held most strongly, for this individual cannot be expressed. Philosophic truth is thus not only expressed as if there were another truth in sensuous consciousness; but Being is present in that philosophic truth expresses it. The Sophists thus also made dialectic, universal Philosophy, their object, and they were profound thinkers.
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