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As a set-off against the list of paradoxes cited from Plato, it would be easy to quote a still longer list of brilliant contributions to the cause of truth and right, to strike a balance between the two, and to show that there was a preponderance on the positive side sufficiently great to justify the favourable verdict of posterity. We believe, however, that such a method would be as misleading as it is superficial. Neither Plato nor any other thinker of the same calibre鈥攊f any other there be鈥攕hould be estimated by a simple analysis of his opinions. We must go back to the underlying forces of which individual175 opinions are the resultant and the revelation. Every systematic synthesis represents certain profound intellectual tendencies, derived partly from previous philosophies, partly from the social environment, partly from the thinker鈥檚 own genius and character. Each of such tendencies may be salutary and necessary, according to the conditions under which it comes into play, and yet two or more of them may form a highly unstable and explosive compound. Nevertheless, it is in speculative combinations that they are preserved and developed with the greatest distinctness, and it is there that we must seek for them if we would understand the psychological history of our race. And this is why we began by intimating that the lines of our investigation may take us back over ground which has been already traversed, and forward into regions which cannot at present be completely surveyed..
After disposing of the Stoic materialism, according to which the soul, though distinct from the body, is, equally with it, an extended and resisting substance, our philosopher proceeds to discuss the theories which make it a property or function of the body. The Pythagorean notion of the soul as a harmony of the body is met by a reproduction of the well-known arguments used against it in Plato鈥檚 Phaedo. Then comes the Aristotelian doctrine that the soul is the entelechy鈥攖hat is to say, the realised purpose and perfection鈥攐f the physical organism to which it belongs. This is an idea which Aristotle himself had failed to make very clear, and the inadequacy of which he had virtually acknowledged by ascribing a different origin to reason, although this is counted as one of the psychic faculties. Plotinus, at any rate, could not appreciate an explanation which, whatever else it implied, certainly involved a considerable departure from his own dualistic interpretation of the difference between spirit and matter. He could not enter into Aristotle鈥檚 view of the one as a lower and less concentrated form of the other. The same arguments which had already been employed against Stoicism are now turned against the Peripatetic psychology. The soul as a principle, not only of memory and desire, but even of nutrition, is declared to be independent of and separable from the body. And, finally, as a result of the whole controversy, its immortality is affirmed. But how far this immortality involves the belief in a prolongation of personal existence after death, is a point297 which still remains uncertain. We shall return to the question in dealing with the religious opinions of Plotinus..
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The third thesis maintains that, granting the world to exist and to be knowable, one man cannot communicate his knowledge to another; for, the different classes of sensations being heterogeneous, a visual or tactual impression on our consciousness cannot be conveyed by an auditory impression on the consciousness of someone else. This difficulty has been completely overcome by the subsequent progress of thought. We cannot, it is true, directly communicate more132 than a few sensations to one another; but by producing one we may call up others with which it has become associated through previous experience. And the great bulk of our knowledge has been analysed into relations of co-existence, succession, and resemblance, which are quite independent of the particular symbols employed to transmit them from one mind to another.220
The illustrious Italian poet and essayist, Leopardi, has observed that the idea of the world as a vast confederacy banded together for the repression of everything good and great and true, originated with Jesus Christ.122 It is surprising that so accomplished a Hellenist should not have attributed the priority to Plato. It is true that he does not speak of the world itself in Leopardi鈥檚 sense, because to him it meant something different鈥攁 divinely created order which it would have been blasphemy to revile; but the thing is everywhere present to his thoughts under other names, and he pursues it with relentless hostility. He looks on the great majority of the human race, individually and socially, in their beliefs and in their practices, as utterly corrupt, and blinded to such an extent that they are ready to turn and rend any one who attempts to lead them into a better path. The many 鈥榢now not wisdom and virtue, and are always busy with gluttony and sensuality. Like cattle, with their eyes always looking down and their heads stooping, not, indeed, to the earth, but to the dining-table, they fatten and feed and breed, and in their excessive love of these delights they kick and butt at one another with horns and hoofs which are made of iron; and they kill one another by reason of their insatiable lust.鈥123 Their ideal is the man who nurses up his desires to the utmost intensity, and procures the means for gratifying them by fraud or violence. The assembled multitude resembles a strong and fierce brute expressing its wishes by inarticulate grunts, which the popular leaders make it their business to understand and to comply with.J A statesman of the nobler kind who should attempt to benefit the people by thwarting their foolish appetites will be denounced as a public enemy by the demagogues, and will stand no more chance of acquittal than a physician if he were brought before a jury of children by the pastry-cook.
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21 August, 2019 - 13:08
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