Verse > Anthologies > Robert Bridges, ed. > The Spirit of Man: An Anthology

Robert Bridges, ed. (1844–1930).  The Spirit of Man: An Anthology.  1916.
From Phaedo

Plato (427?–347 B.C.)
.. THEN 1 Socrates said: I must tell you, Kbes, that when I was young I had a marvellous appetite for that branch of philosophy which they call Natural Science; for I thought it must be splendid to know the causes of things, what it is that makes each thing come into being, exist, and perish: and I was always rushing into opposite extremes of opinion in speculating on such questions as these, Is the growth of animals the result of a corruption which the hot and cold principle contracts, as some have said? Is it by virtue of the blood that we think? or is it the air, or fire? or perhaps nothing of this sort?…. And then I went on to examine the decay of things, and the changes which the heavens and earth undergo; until at last I came to see that I was by nature utterly incompetent for such enquiries, as I can easily convince you was the case, for under the influence of these speculations I grew wholly blind to matters which hitherto, so far at least as I could judge of myself or others of me, I had understood quite well….. Then I heard someone reading out of a book of ANAXAGORAS, as he told us, and saying that Mind was the disposer and cause of all: and I was delighted with this notion of the (first) cause,—indeed it gave me a sort of comfort to think that Mind was the cause of all things, and I said to myself, If this be so,—if Mind is the orderer, it will have all in order, and put every single thing in the place that is best for it. And arguing thus I rejoiced to think that, with respect to causation, I had found in Anaxagoras a teacher after my own heart…..  1
  Ah my friend, how speedily was my glorious hope dashed, as I went on to read, and found my philosopher making no use whatever of Mind, nor of any other valid principle for the ordering of Nature, but alleging Air and Ether and Water, and many other like absurdities. He seemed to me to have fallen exactly into the predicament of a man who, maintaining generally that Mind is the cause of the actions of Socrates, should then, when he undertook to explain my conduct in detail, go on to show that I sit here because my body is made up of bones and muscles; and the bones, as he would say, are hard and have joints which divide them, and the muscles are elastic, and so on…. That is what he would say; and he would have a similar explanation of my talking to you, which he would attribute to sound, and air, and hearing; and he would assign ten thousand other causes of the same sort, neglecting to mention the true cause, which is that the Athenians have thought fit to condemn me, and accordingly I have thought it better and more right to remain here and undergo my sentence:—for, by the dog, I think that these muscles and bones of mine [if they had had any say in the matter] would have consulted their own interest and gone off long ago to Megara or Bœotia, if I had not thought it better and nobler not to play truant and run away, but rather to remain here and undergo whatever punishment the state may inflict. To call such things as these causes is quite absurd. If any one should care to say that unless I had bones and muscles and the other parts of the body, I could not do what I would, that is well enough: but to say that I act as I do because of them, and that this is the way in which my mind acts, and not from choice of the best, why, that is a very careless and idle way of speaking.  2
Note 1. Plato. ‘Phaedo’, 96. [See 16.] The bracketed words are added to ease a modern reader’s objections to Socrates’ irony, which raises difficulties. However it be understood, one should remember that a Greek could well imagine the body to frame wishes opposed to the rational resolutions of the soul. Aristotle accuses Anaxagoras of confounding [Greek] with [Greek]. [Trans. R. Bridges.] [back]

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