Highlights | Calendar | Music | Books | Concerts | Links | Education | Health
What's New | LaRouche | Spanish Pages | Poetry | Maps
Dialogue of Cultures
Translations of the Works of
Impossible, otherwise we again suppose a composition and connection by which a whole is formed from parts, and return to the point from whence we set out.
It must be simple, therefore?
Also un-extended, as extent is divisible; and whatever is divisible cannot be simple.
There is, at least, then in our bodies a single substance which is neither extended nor compounded, but is simple, has a power of conception, and unites all ideas, desires, and inclinations, in itself. Why may we not call this substance our soul?
It is immaterial what name we give it: it is enough that my objections to it had no foundation, and that your arguments for the imperishability of the thinking being are not to be overthrown.
There is one other consideration to be attended to, said Socrates: whether, if there were many of these substances in the human body, nay, if we should imagine all the elementary parts of our body of this nature, would my arguments for their imperishability lose thereby any of their strength? Or would not such a supposition rather make it necessary, instead of one imperishable spirit, to admit of many, and therefore to allow more than we required for our purpose? As every one of these substances would comprehend in itself, as we have seen the whole compass of man's conceptions, wishes, and desires; and, therefore, with respect to extent of knowledge, their powers would not be more confined than the power of the whole.
They could not possibly be more confined.
And with respect to clearness, truth, and certainty of knowledge? Place several erroneous, defective, and unclear ideas together; would they produce a more bright, a more clear, or more distinct idea?
I should think not.
If a spirit does not interpose and compare them, and by reflection and consideration obtain a perfect knowledge from them, they will continue forever to be erroneous, defective, and indistinct ideas.
The constituent parts of the thinking matter, therefore, must necessarily have conceptions which are as clear, as true, and as perfect, as the conceptions of the whole: for from less true or less clear conceptions, no knowledge could result which would be more true or perfect.
This is not to be denied.
Does not this, however, say, that instead of one reasoning spirit which we would place in every human body, we have, without any necessity, an infinite number of them.
But this infinity of thinking substances will not, most probably, be all equally perfect, as such useless multiplications are not found in this well-ordered world.
The all-supreme perfection of its Creator, answered Simmias, allows us to infer this with certainty.
Therefore, among these substances which we would place in the human body, one of them must be the most perfect, and must consequently have the most distinct and enlightened conceptions.
This simple substance, which is un-extended, possesses a power of imagination, is the most perfect among the thinking substances which exist within us, and comprehends all ideas, of which we are conscious with the same distinctness, truth, and certainty. Is not this my soul?
Nothing else, my dear Socrates.
It is now time, Simmias, to cast a look behind us on the way we have come. We pre-supposed that the power of thinking was a property of the composition; and yet how wonderful, by this very supposition, we draw from a series of arguments the direct contrary conclusion, namely, that feeling and thinking must be the properties of what is not composed, but simple. Is not this a sufficient proof that our supposition was absurd, contradictory, and ought therefore to be rejected.
Nobody can entertain a doubt of this.
Extent and motion, continued Socrates, will solve every accident which can happen to the composition. Extent is the matter and motion, the source from whence the changes spring. Both show themselves in the composition under a thousand various shapes, and produce in the material world the endless series of wonderful forms, from the smallest atom to the magnificence of the heavenly sphere, which the poets have imagined to be the seat of the gods. All these different conformations agree in this, that their matter is extension, and their operation, motion. But to perceive, to compare, to desire, to will, to feel pleasure and displeasure, require a quite different capacity from extension or motion, another elementary matter, and other sources of change. Here one simple substance must represent to itself things which are distant and separated, collect things which are scattered, and compare things which are different. All that is spread over the wide space of the corporeal world presses itself here together, as it were, into a point, to make out a whole; and what is past is in the present moment brought in contrast with that which is to come. Here I know neither extension nor color, motion nor rest, space nor time, but a being internally active, which represents to itself extension and color, motion and rest, space and time; combines, separates, compares, selects, and possesses a thousand other capacities which have no relation to extension or motion. Pleasure and displeasure, desire and aversion, hope and fear, are no change of place of little atoms. Modesty, philanthropy, benevolence, the charm of friendship, and the sublime feeling of piety, are something more than the agitation of the blood and the beating of the arteries, with which they are usually accompanied. Things of so different a kind, and of such different qualities, cannot, without extreme inattention, be confounded together.
I am entirely satisfied, said Simmias.
One other observation I will make, said Socrates, before I come to your objection, Cebes. The first thing which we know of the body and its properties is no more than the form and manner in which it presents itself to the discernment of our senses; Do you not allow this?
Explain yourself a little clearer, Socrates.
Extension and motion are the representations which the thinking being forms of external objects.
We have the firmest grounds to believe, that every thing without us is exactly what it appears to be, when nothing obstructs our perception of it: but does not this representation always precede, and our assurance that the object actually exists, follow after?
How can it possibly be otherwise, while we cannot be informed of the existence of things but by the impressions which they make upon us.
In the acquirement of any knowledge which we make, the thinking being always precedes, and the extended being follows: we first experience ideas, and from them infer a conceiving being; then we conclude on the actual existence of the body and its properties. We can convince ourselves also of this truth by observing, that our body itself, as we have seen before, without having the thinking being to instruct it, could not compose a whole; and motion even, without comparison of the past much the present, would not be motion in which ever way we view this matter, the soul always goes first with her imagination, and then the body follows with its changes. The conceiving always precedes the merely conceivable.
This idea appears fruitful, my friend, said Cebes.
We can divide the universal chain of beings, proceeding from what is infinite to the smallest atom, into three classes. The first class conceives, but cannot be conceived by any other. This is the only one whose perfection surpasses all finite ideas. The created spirits and souls make the second class: they conceive, and can be conceived by others. The corporeal world is the third class which cannot itself conceive, but is conceivable by others. The objects of this third class are not only with respect to our progress in knowledge, but also with respect to our progress in knowledge, but also with respect to their existence without us, always the last in order, because they necessarily pre-suppose the reality of a conceiving being-Shall we allow this?
We cannot do otherwise, said Simmias, as what has gone before must be admitted.
The thought of man, however, continued Socrates, takes always the reverse of this order. The first thing which we assure ourselves of existence is, bodies and their changes. These external objects so overmaster our senses, that we for a long time consider the material existence as the only one, and every thing else as properties of it.
I am rejoiced to hear, you insinuate, said Simmias, that you have gone this backward way yourself.
Certainly, dear Simmias, replied Socrates. The first sentiments of all mortals are similar to each other. This is the port, as it were, from which they all weigh anchor. They wander up and down in search of Truth on the sea of opinions, until search and reflection, the children of Jupiter, lighten on their sail, and announce to them a happy landing. Reason and reflection lead our spirit from the sensual impressions of the corporeal world back into its own country, into the kingdom of thinking beings; first to its equals to created beings, which, on account of their infiniteness, can also be clearly imagined and conceived by others. From them they raise it to that first source of the conceiving and conceivable, to that all-comprehending, but by all incomprehensible being, of whom we, to our comfort, know that every thing which, in the corporeal or spiritual world, is good, beautiful, or perfect, has all its reality from him, and is maintained by his almighty power. To feel a deep impression, conviction, and constant consciousness of this truth on our minds, is all that is necessary for our peace and happiness in this life of another.
After some silence Socrates turned to Cebes, and said: Dear Cebes, as you have now got more just ideas of the nature of immortal beings, what do you think of the poets, who often make a god envious of the merit of a mortal, and an enemy to him from mere malice.
You know, Socrates, what we have learned to think of such teachers, and their inventions.
Hatred and envy, those mean-spirited passions, are totally incompatible with the character of a deity.
I am convinced of that.
You believe now, therefore, more confidently, that you, we, and all our fellow creatures, are neither hated, envied, nor persecuted, by the all-sacred being who has produced us, but, on the contrary, beloved in the tenderest manner. In this firm conviction can the smallest fear attend you, that the supreme being will doom you to eternal torment, whether guilty or innocent.
Never, never, cried Appollodorus to whom the question was not directed, while Cebes was content with giving his assent to it in silence.
We shall, continued Socrates, take this position for granted, therefore: "That God does not destine his creatures to perpetual misery," as a measure of our certainty of knowledge, when we discourse of future things which depend solely upon his will. From nature and the properties of created things, nothing in this respect can be inferred with certainty; for from them we can only conclude on what is unchangeable in itself, and that depends, therefore, not on the will, but is consistent with the knowledge of God. We must look to his supreme perfection in such cases, and endeavor to investigate what contradicts or accords with it. When we are convinced that any thing is incompatible with it, we may reject and deem it impossible, as if it were contrary to the nature and being of the things in consideration.
The question, my dear Cebes, which we have now to enquire into, on account of your objection, is similar.
You admit, my friend, that the soul is a simple being, which exists independent of the body, Do you not?
You admit further, that it is not perishable.
Of that I am equally convinced.
So far, continued Socrates, our ideas of the nature of extension and representation have lead us. But still some doubts disturb you concerning the future fate of human spirits, which, in a certain measure, depends singly and along upon the will and pleasure of the Almighty. Will he allow the soul of man to endure forever in a wakeful state, conscious of the present and the past? Or has he destined it, upon the decease of the body, to sink into a state like sleep, and thence never to awaken? Is not this what appeared still uncertain to you?
This exactly, dear Socrates.
That a total deprivation of all consciousness, of all recollection, is not impossible to the soul, at least for a short time: sleep, swooning, ecstasies, and a thousand other accidents, teach us. To be sure the soul in all such instances, is still fettered with the body, and must sympathy with the affections of the brain, which presents, at such times, none but faint and transitory images. From thence we can form no idea of the state of the soul after her separation from the body, because then the communication with these two beings is at an end; the body ceases to be the organ of the soul, and the soul must follow laws totally different from those which were prescribed to her on earth. In the meantime we may be satisfied, that the want of clear consciousness, which sometimes happens in sleep, does not disprove the nature of a spirit; as our fears, if this were the case, would not be wholly groundless. But if we wish to dissipate this terrible apprehension, can we desire more than to be certain that our fears are contrary to the design of God, and can be as little intended by him as the eternal misery of his creatures.
Certainly, said Cebes, if we do not look for a conviction which is inconsistent with the nature of the things to which our enquiry is directed. When I stated my doubts, my friend, I touched upon some grounds which were borrowed from the views of the Creator, and made your doctrine very probable. I wished to hear from them, however, illustrated from your own mouth; and my friends, I know relish the same desire.
I shall try, said Socrates, whether I can fully satisfy you. Answer me, Cebes : if you are afraid of losing, with life all waking consciousness of yourself forever, do you apprehend that this fate awaits all mankind, or only a part of them? Shall we all be taken away by death, and in the language of the poets, "by him delivered into the arms of his eldest brother, eternal sleep" or are some of the inhabitants of this earth destined to be awakened by the heavenly morning of immortality above? As soon as we admit that a part of mankind are destined to real immortality, then Cebes does not for a moment doubt that this happiness is reserved for the righteous, the friends of God and man.
No, my dear Socrates; the gods do not dispense eternal death so unjustly as the Athenians do the doom which is temporary.
I am of the opinion also, that, in the very wise plan of the creation, similar beings are to meet a similar destiny, and consequently that the same fate awaits the whole human race; they either all awake to a state of consciousness hereafter, and then Anitus and Melitus themselves cannot doubt that the innocent and oppressed may expect a better fate than their persecutors, or they terminate their being with this life, and return to that state from which they sprung at their birth; the parts assigned them to perform extend no farther than the stage of this world; at their last scene the actors go off, and become what they were before in common nature. I am ashamed, my dear friend, to carry this supposition any farther, as I perceive it would lead me into an obvious absurdity.
That is nothing to the purpose, Cebes. We must think for those who would not blush so easily at an absurd conclusion. Similar beings, you have maintained, must, according to the wise plan of the creation, have similar destinies.
All created beings who think and will are similar to each other?
If even one thinks more justly, truly, perfectly, and comprehends more objects than another, yet there are no bounding lines which separate, or, as it were, divide them into different classes; they rise in undistinguishable degrees one above another, and make but one single kind-Do they not?
This must be granted.
And if there are still higher spirits than us, which excel each other in different degrees of perfection, and approach gradually to the infinite being, do they not all, as created things, belong to one single kind?
As their qualities are not essentially different, their destinies must be essentially similar, and only in imperceptible degrees different from each other. As in the great plan of the creation every thing is ordered according to a system of complete harmony, the destinies of all beings must strictly accord with their merits and perfections. Can we possibly doubt of this?
Not in the least.
My friends, the question we are now considering begins to grow particularly interesting. Its decision concerns not only the human race, but the whole world of thinking beings.
Are they destined to real immortality, to an existence of perpetual consciousness and self-feeling? Or are these benefits, after a short enjoyment here below, withdrawn, and succeeded by eternal insensibility and oblivion?
In the judgement of the supreme being this question must have been decided in a general manner.
Should we not therefore, in our enquiry, consider it in a general point of view.
But the more general the objects, the more absurd are our apprehensions. All finite spirits have innate qualities which unfold themselves, and become more perfect by exercise. Man improves his natural strength to think and feel with astonishing rapidity; every sensation makes a crowd of perceptions stream in upon him, which are inexpressible by the human tongue; and as he contrasts these feelings with each other, compares, considers, concludes, chooses, or rejects, his perceptions are multiplied to infinity. At the same time there is an incessant activity of the innate faculties of the spirit, which form in him wit, understanding, reason, invention, sense of beauty and goodness, magnanimity, philanthropy, affability, and all those other perfections which no mortal hitherto has been able to avoid acquiring. Allow that we discover stupidity, folly, senselessness, meanness, and cruelty, in many men; as in comparison of men with each other, these appellations may often be just; but there never existed a being who had not some mark of understanding given him; nor a tyrant, whose bosom was entirely divested of humanity. We all acquire the same qualities; the only difference is in their being more or less perfect; even the most impious of men cannot act directly contrary to his destination. He may contend against it with the utmost obstinacy, but still the original bent of this genius to good will at last prevail. While man is addicted to a vicious course, he continues imperfect and miserable; but the improvement of his natural good disposition promotes at the same time, even without his consciousness or inclination, the end and intention of this being. No human being has ever lived in benevolent commerce with his fellow creatures, who has not left the world more perfect than he first trod it. The same case applies to the whole state of thinking beings: as long as they have self-feeling, they think, will, desire, abhor; their innate capacities expand and approach more and more to perfection: the longer they are so employed, their powers become the more active, ready, and quick; their action is less retarded, they become more capable of discerning their real happiness, in contemplating real beauty and perfection: and yet, my friends, must all these acquired godly perfections suddenly vanish, and, like light froth on the water, or an arrow shot through the air, leave no traces behind them that they ever were? The smallest atom cannot be lost without the most miraculous annihilation; yet shall these excellencies disappear forever? What idea of the creation does this opinion suggest to us? In the all-wise plan, certainly whatever is good is of endless use; and every perfection of endless consequence, that is, the perfection of simple spirits, as no actual perfection can be allowed to compound beings, which are changeable and perishable.
In order to make this clearer, my friends, we must again consider the difference between simple and compound beings. Without referring to the simple and thinking being, we have seen that neither beauty, order, nor harmony, can be attributed to things which are compound; nor could they even be collectively considered, in order to make out a whole. Neither are they intended in the universal plan to have any will concerning themselves; for they are lifeless, and unconscious of their existence, and incapable of any perfection in themselves. The end of their being is rather to be discovered in the living and feeling parts of the creation: the lifeless substance serves the living as the instrument of feeling, and certifies to it not only the sensual feeling of various things, but also gives ideas of beauty, order, symmetry, and perfection; or, at least, affords the matter for all these feelings with which the thinking being is impressed, according to the power of its internal activity. In the compound we find nothing existing by itself, nothing that is durable and stable, so as that we could say in the second moment, it is what it was in the first.
While I look at you, my friends, the light of the sun, which is reflected from your faces, not only varies its stream, but your bodies also have, in the same interval, undergone innumerable changes in their internal form and texture; all parts of them are altered from what they were. As the wise and happy of former times have remarked, corporeal things are not, but spring up and decay, there is no durability or stability in them; they suffer an irresistible torrent of changes, by which every compound being is incessantly generated and dissolved. This Homer has signified, when he terms Ocean the father, and Thetis the mother, of all things; he has thus intended to demonstrate, that all bodies in the visible world spring up and perish by means of a series of continual changes, and as if they were upon a perpetually-agitated sea, never remain one moment in the same situation.
If the compound substance is incapable of any duration in itself, how much less will it be capable of any perfection which we have observed can only be attributed to it by the thinking being. Hence we see, in inanimate nature, beauty fade and bloom, what is perfect, decay, and appear again under another form; apparent irregularity and regularity, harmony and discord, agreeable and what is otherwise, good and bad in endless variety, alternately succeed each other, according as the use, advantage, convenience, pleasure, and happiness of the living world require, for whose benefit they were produced.
The living part of the creation consists of two classes; the one capable of feeling only, the other of feeling and thinking: both have this in common, that they are of durable nature; can possess and enjoy an internal self-subsisting perfection. We observe the perceptions desires, and natural instinct of all animals, which inhabit the earth, accord and correspond in a most wonderful manner with their necessities, and tend to their preservation, happiness and increase, and, in part, to the benefits of their posterity. This harmony dwells within them; for all these feelings and instinct are qualities of the simple incorporeal being which is conscious of them in itself, and in other things. They are susceptible, therefore, of a true perfection, which is not derived from external things, but has its stability and durability in itself. If lifeless things are made partly for their support, necessities, and convenience, they are consequently capable of enjoying these benefits: of feeling, pleasure and displeasure, love and hatred, happiness or the contrary, and of becoming internally perfect or imperfect. If inanimate things have been a means employed by the all-wise Creator in his plan, the animals enter into the chain of his designs: since a part of what is lifeless has been produced for them, and they are capable of enjoying, and therefore of becoming in themselves harmonious and perfect. But as we view them before us upon the earth, we do not see in them any constant progress towards a higher degree of perfection. They receive, without instruction, without reflection, without exercise, without intention, or desire of knowledge, in a manner immediately from the hands of the Creator, those gifts, aptness, and instinct, which are necessary for their preservation and increase. More they never would acquire if they outlived a century, or increased and propagated to eternity. They can neither vitiate nor improve what is given them, nor impart it to another, but exercise it, according to their natural instinct, as long as it is of use in their situation; after which they appear to forget it. By means of human instruction, a few tame animals may be trained to war, or to perform some domestic offices; but they show sufficiently by the way and manner in which they must be taught, that they are not destined on earth to make any steady progress to perfection, but that a certain degree of instinct with which they are born is the utmost limit of their capacity, and that of themselves they aim no farther, nor would, from any natural impulse, make efforts beyond it. This standing still, as it were, this stupid content with the narrow bounds of their being, and total absence of desire to elevate or raise themselves above it, demonstrate that they have not been the chief, but are inferior beings in the design of the creation, and meant to be assistant to things of nobler destination, in fulfilling the supreme views. But the source of life and feeling is a simple self-subsisting thing, which, under all changes that it suffers, has something constant and lasting in it; therefore the talents, the properties which it acquires by tuition, or receives immediately from the hand of the Creator, belong properly to it, and cannot be totally lost in any natural manner.
As this simple being does not cease to be, therefore it does not cease to further the views of the Creator, but becomes fitter and fitter to bring to completion the great end of its original author. This is consonant to the infinite wisdom with which the plan of this world has been laid. Every thing in it strives and labors incessantly to accomplish certain views in this plan. To every real substance an endless series of functions is prescribed, through which it must gradually proceed, each stage or occupation preparing and making it fitter for that which is to follow. According to these principles the spiritual being, which inspires animals, is of infinite duration, and continues perpetually fulfilling the views of God in the series of destinations appointed it in the universal plan.
That these animals, and merely sensual feeling natures, will in time lose their inferiority of condition, and, elevated by a look of the Almighty, enter the realm of spirits we can with no certainty predict; but I am much inclined to believe.
As rational beings occupy a principal place in the great universe, so man holds the chief rank upon earth. Nature adorns herself for this mimic master of the creation in all her maiden beauty. What is animated serves not only for his use, convenience, food, clothing, and habitation, but also contributes highly to his amusement, pleasures, and instruction; even the most distant worlds, the most remote stars which are scarcely distinguishable by the eye, minister to his knowledge, and offer their rays to light him to the spheres.
If we would know the destination of man upon earth, we must observe what he does here - He brings with him on this stage neither aptness nor instinct, neither the means of shelter nor defense, and appears, at his first entrance, more indigent and helpless than the irrational beast. But an endeavor and capacity to help his condition, those sublime dispositions of which a created nature is susceptible, supply in various ways the want of that animal aptness and instinct which admit of no improvement. No sooner does he enjoy the light of the sun than all Nature labors to make his faculties perfect; one object sharpens his sense, imagination, and power of memory; another exercises his more noble perceptions, cultivates his understanding, his judgement, his reason, and discernment; the beauties of nature form his taste, and refine his feelings; the sublime raises his admiration, and lift his conceptions above this transitory state. Order, concord, and symmetry, serve not only for his rational amusement, but dispose the powers of his mind to that proper harmony which is conducive to their perfection. Whenever he enters into society to become useful to his equals, by prosecuting the means of happiness, behold! higher perfections are unfolded in him, which were hitherto enveloped as in a bud. He acquires a sense of duties, rights, privileges, and obligations, which raise him in the class of moral beings: then he gains ideas of justice, equity, honor and respect. His affections, which were at first engrossed by his family and kindred, expand now into patriotism and philanthropy, and, from the latent seed of sympathy, spring up benevolence, charity, and magnanimity.
By degrees social converse produces affability, exchange of sentiment, and the maturity of all the moral virtues which kindle the heart to friendship, the soul to intrepidity, and fire the mind with the love of truth. Jealousies are excited, love and hatred are roused, alternate scenes of seriousness and gaiety, cheerfulness and melancholy, are spread over human life, and give it charms which excel all other simple and unsocial joys in sweetness. The possession, therefore, of all the good things of this world, the enjoyment of the most exquisite pleasures, would please but little, if they could be tasted only in solitude: for the most sublime and pompous objects in nature delight the social animal, man, not near so much as a sight of his fellow creatures.
At length this rational creature attains, for the first time, true ideas of God and his attributes. How bold a step to a higher perfection! From communication with his fellow creatures, he steps into communication with his Creator; discovers the relation in which he himself, the whole human race, all animate and inanimate things, stand to the maker and supporter of all; the great order of causes and effects in nature becomes to him an order of means and views; what he has as yet enjoyed upon earth seemed to have been thrown from the clouds: now these clouds open and discover the friendly donor who has made all those benefits abound to him; the endowments he possesses of body and mind, he knows to be the gift of the all-good Father. All beauties, all harmony, goodness, wisdom, providence, ways and means, which he has acknowledged hitherto in the visible and invisible world, he considers as thoughts of the Almighty, which are given him to read in the book of creation, in order to advance him to a higher perfection. To this kind father and tutor, this gracious regent of the world, he consecrates at the same time all virtues of his heart; and they assume in his eyes a godly splendor, as he knows that, through them alone, he can please the supreme. Virtue alone leads to happiness, and we cannot please the Creator otherwise than by striving after our real happiness. What a height has man in this situation reached upon earth! Consider him, my friends, the pure-minded subject of the kingdom of God, how all his thoughts, wishes, inclinations, and passions, are harmonized! how they all tend to the real well-being of the creature, and the admiration of the Creator. If the world could only show one example of such perfections, would we hesitate to say, this being, this object of divine regard, must be the final end of the creation?
Certainly all the features of this picture do not strike men in general, but a few only of noble natures who are the ornaments of the human race, and, perhaps the line of separation between men and higher spirits; they all belong, however to one class. From the lowest to the highest, from the most ignorant of men to the most accomplished of created spirits, all have a destination, not more becoming the wisdom of God, than adapted to their own powers and capacity; namely, to make themselves and others more perfect. This path is traced before them, and the most perverse will cannot entirely avoid pursuing it. Every thing which lives and thinks must unavoidably exercise its intellectual faculties, and improve and strengthen them, in order to advance with more or less speed towards perfection. But when is this aim accomplished? Never so fully, it would appear, but that the way to further progress is still open; for created beings can never attain the ultimate height of perfection. The higher they mount, the more unlimited prospects they discover to spur on their steps. The constancy of their endeavor resembles time in its continued progression. By imitation of God man may gradually approach to his perfections; and in his approach the happiness of spirits consists. But the way to them is endless, and created beings, therefore, can never reach its term. This endeavor, then, has no limits in man's life. His wishes aim always at something infinite. Our desire of knowledge is insatiable; our ambition also even the base passion of avarice torments and distresses without ever satisfying us. The perception of beauty is endless: the sublime charms us by the undiscoverable nature which adheres to it: pleasure, as soon as we are satiated, is painful. Wherever we meet boundaries that are insurmountable, our imagination lays us in fetters; and the heavens themselves appear to limit our existence to too narrow a sphere; therefore we let our imagination willingly range, and conceive space to be interminable and boundless. These perpetual efforts, the aim of which is still accomplishing, but never accomplished, are consistent with the nature, the properties, and destination of spirits; and the wonderful works of infinity certainly present objects enough to employ them forever: the more we penetrate into their mysteries, the larger grows the prospect which strikes our eager looks; the more we discover, the farther we wish to enquire; the more we enjoy, the more inexhaustible appears the source of our pleasures.
Thus, from the irresistible tendency and impulse in rational beings to attain a state more perfect, we have ample grounds to believe, their perfection is the final end of the creation. We may conclude this world has been produced for the existence of spirits, which might elevate themselves by degrees to perfection, and feel their utmost happiness in their progress towards it.
That these beings are to be stopped, in the midst of their course, not only stopped, but all at once thrown back with the whole fruit of their efforts, into the abyss of annihilation, cannot be the design of the Creator. As simple beings, they are unperishable; as substances, whose existence is independent on other created beings; their perfections must be durable, and of constant increase; as rational beings, their endeavors to acquire spiritual beauty are continual, and nature cites their efforts by motives that are sublime. As the ultimate end of the creation, they cannot be subordinate to other ends, nor stopped, in the improvement or possession of their perfections.
Is it consistent with the supreme wisdom to produce a world, in order to make the happiness of the creatures which inhabit it, arise from the contemplation of its beauties, and a moment after deprive them of that enjoyment forever? Can the divine author have made such a phantom of bliss, the whole aim of their being? No, my friends: nature has not given us the desire of eternal happiness in vain. Our wishes can and will be satisfied. The design of the creation will subsist as long as the things created; the admirers of the divine perfections will subsist as long as the work where those perfections are visible.
As we fulfil the views of the supreme being on earth by developing our intellectual faculties, in like manner we shall continue in another life under the guard of divine providence, to exercise and perfect ourselves in virtue, that we may render ourselves more fit to accomplish his designs, the chain of which extends from us to infinity. To make a pause anywhere in this course, is palpably incompatible with God's wisdom, his goodness, or omnipotence; and can as little have been his intention, as extreme misery to innocent creatures.
How much to be pitied is the fate of a mortal, whom sophistry has robbed of the consoling prospect of futurity. His state in this world must be a dream of despair. What idea is more grievous to man's soul than annihilation! What object more melancholy than a creature who sees that event rapidly approaching, and in the mournful expectation of it frequently anticipates the moment of calamity? In days of happiness, this terrible thought steals upon his imagination, like a serpent through a bed of flowers, and poisons every enjoyment of life. In days of adversity it crushes him helpless to the ground, and takes from him the only hope which can sweeten misery, the reliance on a better life. The idea of a sudden annihilation is so opposite to the nature of a human soul, that we can, in no point of view, reconcile them, or avoid seeing a thousand absurdities and contradictions in the opinion. What is life, already checkered with miseries, if its most agreeable moments are to be galled besides with the afflicting foresight of inevitable annihilation? What is an existence of yesterday and today which will cease tomorrow? A despicable trifle, which rewards us for the pains, labor, and difficulties attending its preservation, most wretchedly indeed: and yet to him who has no other hope before him, this trifle must be his all. The consequence of this opinion must be, that the present existence is an inestimable good which nothing in this world can counterbalance. The most painful, the most tortured state, must be preferable to the entire annihilation of his being. His love to life becomes absolutely unconquerable. What consideration can we suppose powerful enough to tempt him to the smallest exposure of it?
Honor and Fame;
Those shadows must vanish when he considers other real goods which may come in comparison with them - the welfare of his family, his friends, his native country.
Were it the welfare of the whole human race, the pitiful enjoyment of a few moments is his whole consolation, and therefore of unspeakable value. How will he dare to mount the breach in a siege? What he ventures for, in comparison with what he wishes to preserve, is a mere nothing, as life, in his estimation, is more precious than all other possessions.
But it may be asked, are there not heroic spirits who would sacrifice life for the rights of humanity, for liberty, virtue, or truth? Yes; and many have exposed it from far less laudable motives. But the heart certainly, not the understanding, has moved them to such a resolution. By such actions they belie their own principles, without being conscious of it. He who hopes for a future life, and makes the aim of his present existence consist in a gradual advancement to perfection, may say to himself: Behold, you are sent here to make yourself more perfect by the furtherance of good; you may therefore promote good, even at the expense of your life, if it cannot otherwise be effected. If tyranny threatens the ruin of your native country, if justice is in danger of violation, virtue of being oppressed, or religion and truth persecuted; then make use of your life for the end it was conferred upon you, and preserve to the human race those means of their happiness. The merit of advancing virtue with so much resignation gives your being an unspeakable worth, which at the same time will be of infinite duration. Whenever death warrants to me what life cannot, then it is my duty, my vocation, and the moment destined for me to die. The worth of life appears, and ought to be compared with other goods only, when it is considered with other goods only, when it is considered as a means to happiness. As soon as we lose with life all existence, it ceases to be a means; then its preservation becomes the object, the only aim of our wishes, the greatest good we can possess, and is loved and desired for itself alone: no other good in the world can be equaled, much less preferred to it, as it surpasses all other in magnitude. It is therefore impossible for me to believe, that a man, who apprehends that his being is forever terminated with his life, should, according to his principles, sacrifice himself for the welfare of his country, or the human race. I am rather of the opinion, that as often as the preservation of the native country requires an individual to lose his life, or to be in danger of losing it, a war must ensue between the state and this citizen; and what is singular, a war which is just on both sides: for has not the native country a right to demand the sacrifice of the life of any citizen for the welfare of the whole? But the citizen, whenever life becomes his supreme good, has exactly an opposite right. He can, he may, nay, according to his principles, he ought to plot the destruction of his country, in order to preserve his own dearer life for some longer enjoyment. On such grounds every moral being has an absolute right to contrive the destruction of the whole world, if it will prolong his own existence. All his fellow creatures have the same right. What a general revolt is this! What confusion and distraction must it occasion in the world! A war which is just on all sides; a general war of moral beings, where everyone has the right on his side; a contest which, in itself, cannot, even by the most upright judges, be decided according to justice and equity: What can be more absurd?
If all the opinions which have engaged mankind in dispute were appealed at the throne of Truth, do you not believe, my friends, that his goddess could instantaneously decide and establish irrevocably which of them were true, and which were false?
For in the realm of truth no doubts or uncertainty can exist; everything there is decidedly true or false. Nobody will deny, I trust, that a doctrine, which cannot be maintained without admitting absolute contradictions, inexplicable doubts, or undecided uncertainties, must be false, at least in the kingdom of Truth; as in her empire a perfect harmony reigns, which nothing can interrupt or disturb. The same character distinguishes Justice: before her tribunal all differences are adjusted, and right determined according to immutable rules: there no judicial case remains undecided or doubtful: no two moral beings have an equal claim to the same thing. All those weaknesses are the inheritance of man, whose feebleness of sight makes him incapable of discerning all the reasons which would determine his judgement in its enquiries after truth, or unable to weigh and appreciate them. All the rights of moral beings, like all truths, accord in perfect harmony, in the understanding of the supreme being. All duties and obligations which appear at variance with each other, and suspend the judgement and actions of beings of a limited nature, are there reconciled. Two opposite, yet equal rights, are as absurd in the eyes of omniscience as the affirmative and negative of the same proposition; as the existence and non-existence of the same being. What shall we say then of an opinion which, from the most connected and justly formed conclusions, would lead us to ideas that are so inconsistent and unmaintainable? Would Truth give them her sanction?
My friend Crito, a few days ago, attempted to convince me that I was not bound to submit to the laws of the republic, and that I should have been justified in flying from the sentence pronounced against me. Unless I am mistaken in my judgement of his way of thinking, he maintained that opinion merely because he thought the sentence of my judges unjust. If he was convinced that I was guilty of the crimes that have been laid to my charge, then he would not deny the right of the republic to punish me with death, and my obligation to suffer it. This right to act invariably implies an obligation to suffer: and if the republic, or any other moral agent, has a right to punish him who offends with death, if a slighter punishment is not sufficient, the offender, according to the rigor of justice, is obliged to suffer that punishment; were this obligation to suffer, not binding, the right to punish would be ideal and visionary. As in the physical world there cannot be an agent without a patient, so in the moral world there cannot be a right on one side without the obligation upon the other.
I do not doubt, my friends, that you and Crito are of the same opinion with myself upon this head. But we could not think so, if life were our dearest possession: for, in that case, the most heinous offender would be under no obligation to suffer the punishment he deserved; on the contrary, when he had merited death from the republic, he would have a right to destroy his native country, which endeavors to destroy him. What is past cannot be recalled. Life is supreme good: How can he prefer the preservation of the republic to it? How can nature prescribe a duty to him which does not contribute to his utmost welfare? How can he lie under an obligation to do or suffer anything which ruins his happiness? It will not only be just, therefore, but even a duty in him to lay his country waste with fire and sword, if he can save his life by it. But how does he acquire this fatal right? Before he committed the offence which deserved punishment, was he not, as a man, obliged to study the welfare of men? As a citizen, to promote the welfare of his fellow citizens? What could free him from this obligation, and give him an opposite right to destroy everything around him? What has occasioned this strange conflict in his duties? Who is able to answer? - "The committed crime itself."
Another unhappy consequence of this unnatural opinion is, that its supporters are at last obliged to deny the providence of God. As, according to their system, the life of man is confined between the narrow limits of rebirth and death, they can overlook its course, from its commencement to its termination. They have, therefore, sufficient knowledge of the subject to judge of the ways of Providence, if there is one. In the world at large they are insensible that numerous accidents do not at all accord with the ideas which ought to be entertained of the attributes of God. Many events appear contrary to his goodness, others contradict his justice; sometimes we are tempted to think, that the fate of men depends upon a cause which is pleased with doing evil. In the physical constitution of man, they discover great order, beauty, and proportion; the wisest views, and the most perfect harmony between the means and end: apparent proofs of the supreme wisdom and goodness. But in social and moral life the traces of the divine attributes are often invisible: it is not uncommon to see vice triumphant, guilt successful, innocence oppressed, and virtue persecuted; the upright suffer as often as offenders; mutiny and sedition obtain their ends as well as the most just legislature; and iniquitous war is as frequently prosperous as the destruction of monsters, or any noble aim for the benefit of mankind. Misfortunes await the virtuous and the wicked, without distinction or regard to merit. If a wise, just, and powerful being, watched over the fate of mortals, and directed it according to his will, would not the same order, which we admire in our physical constitution, pervade the moral world? Perhaps it might be said, "These complaints are made by some discontented spirits, whom neither men nor gods can satisfy. Grant them all their wishes, raise them to the utmost height of human happiness; they will still find in the dark recesses of their hearts enough of spleen and ill humor to make them complain of their benefactors. In the eyes of a moderate man the goods of this world are not so unequally distributed as may be imagined. Virtue feels an internal satisfaction accompany her, which is a sweeter recompense than riches or power. Innocence would very seldom wish herself in the place of her oppressor; her inward peace would be too dear a price for all the charms and glitter of fortune. Whoever estimates the happiness of mankind by examining their feelings, not their opinions, will find their condition far less unhappy than they usually represent it."
Thus much may be said to vindicate the ways of a wise Providence in nature. But this reasoning will have weight only, provided this life does not terminate our existence and hope. In that case it may, nay must, be of greater moment to our future happiness, that we struggle here with misfortune, that we exercise ourselves in patience, constancy, and resolution, and learn submission to the will of God, than if we forget ourselves in prosperity and affluence. If I should even end my life in torments, what does it signify if my soul by that means acquires the beauty of suffering innocence? She is amply repaid for all her troubles. Her sufferings are but momentary; her recompense eternal. What, however, can indemnify him who, under these torments, concludes his existence forever, who loses with his last breath all the virtuous acquirements of his soul during her warfare in life. Is not the destiny of such a mortal cruel? Can he be just who decreed it? And, in the supposition that the consciousness of innocence could counterbalance all the painful sensations which the innocent suffer from their persecutors, even death itself; shall the oppressor, the violator of the rights of God and men, leave the scene of his iniquity, without awaking from his blind dream, without acquiring more just ideas of good and evil, and becoming sensible that this world is governed by a being who is pleased with virtue? If no future life is to be expected, Providence can as little be justified with respect to the persecutor as the persecuted.
Unfortunately, to a great part of mankind, these seeming difficulties appear irreconcilable with the existence of the supreme being, who, they imagine, troubles himself very little about the destiny of the human race, notwithstanding he has bestowed so much perfection on the physical nature of man. Virtue and vice, innocence and guilt, he who worships or blasphemes the universal spirit, and every pitiable error of mind into which man falls, when he forsakes the path of truth, are, according to their system, objects of equal indifference in his eyes.
I think it unnecessary, my friends, to insist further on the insolidity of these opinions, as we are all assured that we live under the immediate protection of Providence, and experience no blessing nor evil of life which he does not dispense.
We know a more secure and easy way out of this labyrinth to our understandings. In our eyes the world of moral beings speaks the perfection of its author, as strongly as the world of nature. As tempests, storms, earthquakes, inundations, pestilences, etc produce occasional disorder of the parts in the latter, which assists the preservation and perfection of the whole, the vices and depravities of men give rise to numberless excellencies and virtues, and temporary calamities lead to permanent felicity. In order to view the destiny of one single man in its proper light, we ought to consider it in all its eternity. We cannot examine and judge of the ways of Providence, unless we could reduce the eternal duration of a rational being under one point of view, adapted to the weakness of our perceptions. But were this possible, be assured, my friends, we should then neither censure, murmur, nor complain, but awed and abashed, adore and testify our admiration of the infinite wisdom and goodness of the being who governs the universe.
From all these proofs taken together, I think we may draw the most positive assurance of a future life. The faculty of feeling is not a faculty of the body and its admirable structure, but is the property of an essence which is pure and simple, and consequently unperishable. The perfection which this simple substance has acquired must, in respect to itself, have an endless progress, and make it still fitter and fitter to fulfil the views of God in nature. Our soul, as a being, which is rational, and aims at perfection, belongs to the class of spirits who make the object of the creation, and can never cease to be observers and admirers of God's works. Their existence commences, as we have shown, with a progress from one degree of perfection to another; their being is capable of perpetual growth and expansion: their propensities point visibly at infinity, and nature presents an inexhaustible source to their insatiable desires. They have besides, as moral beings, a system of duties and rights which would appear full of absurdities and contradictions, if they were to be stopped in their way to perfection by obstacles that were insurmountable. And finally, the seeming disorder and injustice which are inseparable from the life of man make us revert to a series of consequences, by which everything dark and inexplicable in the design of things here on earth is rendered clear and consistent. Whoever adheres to the performance of his duties with fortitude and constancy of temper, and bears adversity with patient resignation to the will of God, will deserve and enjoy at last the recompense of his virtues; whereas, he who has trod in the paths of vice cannot leave this world without acknowledging, in some way or other, that evil doing is not the road to happiness. In short, God would impeach his wisdom, goodness, and justice, if he had created rational beings, and suffered them to make progress to perfection for a limited term only.
Any one of you might now say to me - " Well, Socrates, you have convinced us that there is a future life to man; but tell us also where our departed spirits shall inhabit? In what etherial region will they dwell? How will they be employed? What reward will the virtuous souls meet with? And will the vicious be enlightened and reclaimed?"
If any person puts these questions to me, I shall say to him, "Friend, you ask me what is beyond my province to answer. I have led you through all the windings of the maze, and shown you its outlet; other guides may conduct you farther. Whether the souls of the impious and wicked will suffer frost or heat, hunger or thirst, will sink in the morasses of Acherusia, pass their time in gloomy Tartarus, or be tossed on the flames of Phlegethon until they are purified? Whether the blessed will breathe pure heavenly ether upon a radiant mount of gold and precious stones, bask themselves in the blushes of the splendid morning, and enjoy perpetual youth, while they drink inspiring drafts of nectar? These are questions which I am totally unable to answer. If our poets and mythologists know better than me, let them communicate their instruction to others. The cause of humanity can receive no hurt from the play of their imagination. With respect to myself, I am content with feeling a conviction that the eye of heaven is perpetually upon me; that its divine providence and justice will watch over me in the next, as it has protected me in this life; and that my real happiness consists in the beauties and perfections of my soul. These perfections are temperance, justice, charity, benevolence, knowledge of the supreme being, unceasing efforts to accomplish his views, and resignation to his divine will. These are the blessed felicities which await me in the futurity which now opens before me. Thither I hasten. More I desire not to know to make me set out cheerfully upon my journey. You, Simmias, Cebes, and my other friends, will follow me, each in his turn. I many now use the words of the tragic poet, and say, "Inexorable fate beckons me. It is now time to go into the bath. I think it will be more decent to bathe before I take the poison, that the women may not have the trouble of washing my body after it is dead."
So be it, said Crito, as Socrates gave over speaking. But what have you to leave in charge to your friends or me to do, respecting your children and private affairs? How shall we live to give you pleasure?
By living, Crito, as I have long since recommended to you. I have nothing farther to add. If you entertain a just respect for yourself, you cannot fail to live agreeably to virtue, and my wishes, independent of any promise, you may make me. But if you neglect yourself, and do not follow the path which I have pointed out to you this day, as well as formerly, it will be to no purpose to make me any promises at present.
My dear Socrates, said Crito, we will use our utmost efforts to obey you. But how shall we do with you after your death?
As you please, answered Socrates, provided I remain still with you, and do not make my escape elsewhere.
At the same time he looked at us smiling, and said, I cannot, my friends, persuade Crito, that he who now talks, and has for some time past been conversing with you, is the true Socrates. He still imagines that Socrates, and the corpse which he will very soon see, which at this moment serves me as a garment only, are the same thing, and asks how he shall inter me. All the arguments which I have produced hitherto, to prove, that as soon as the poison has operated I shall remain no longer here, but be transported to the mansions of the blest, appear to him mere inventions, to console you for my death. Be so kind, my friends, as to act a contrary part to that which Crito has done for me. He was bail for me to my judges, that I should not make my escape. You must be my guarantees to him, that after death I shall take my departure hence; that he may burn my body, or lay it in the earth, without afflicting himself by thinking, that the greatest of all misfortunes has befallen me. Neither must he say at my interment, They place Socrates upon the bier; they carry Socrates upon the bier; they lay Socrates in the grave - For know, my dear Crito, that such observations are not only contrary to truth, but offensive to the departed spirit. Inter my body in whatever manner you please, or the laws ordain; but be comforted in mind to think of the happy region to which I am fled.
Upon saying this, Socrates, attended by Crito, went into a neighboring chamber to wash himself, desiring us to stay till his return.
During his absence we entered into a recapitulation of the arguments we had heard, in order to preserve their conviction upon our memories, and strengthen our fortitude for the trial we were about to experience in the fate of our friend; but the weight they bore, or the solace they afforded, could not prevent our minds from being deeply agitated by the melancholy event we saw approaching: for in Socrates we felt we were to lose a father, and to become orphans in the world.
After he had bathed, his children were brought to him. He had three; one of them was grown up; the other two were yet in their infancy. The women of his house also came to take leave of him. He spoke to them all in presence of Crito, gave them his last injunctions, and then returned to us.
The sun was about to set, for Socrates had stayed some time in the bath. He sat down, but had scarcely began to speak when the officer of the eleven men entered, and, going up to him, "Oh, Socrates," he said, "I see something in you very different from other men. I have been used to meet with scornful looks and imprecations when I have announced the commands of justice, and bid them prepare to drink their last draft; but you are the most calm and tranquil man that ever entered these walls, and at this moment seem still more superiorly so. Did your bosom feel any resentment, I am certain it would not be towards me, but those whom you know. -I believe I need say no more: you understand the message I have to deliver to you. Farewell; suffer with patience the doom awarded you."
At these words he turned from Socrates, and retired in tears.
Socrates mildly answered him as he went, Friend, adieu; we shall do as you desire. Then addressing us: Observe, said Socrates, this man; he has frequently visited and conversed with me; he has a truly kind and compassionate heart; see how sincerely he weeps. But, Crito, we must obey him: let the poison be brought, if it is ready; if not, let it be prepared.
Why in such haste, my dear Socrates, said Crito: I believe that the sun still shines upon the mountains. Many persons, before they taste the cup of death, eat and drink, and dedicate their last moments to love.
They who consider every momentary suspension of their fate as a gain may do so. I have reasons for observing a different conduct. I do not imagine I can gain anything by delay; and I should appear ridiculous to myself if I were to become avaricious of life, when it is no longer mine.
Crito then made a sign to the slave that attended. The slave withdrew, and sometime after the officer returned with a cup of poison in his hand, and advanced with it towards Socrates.
The virtuous Socrates met him coming, Execrates, and said, Friend, give it me, and tell me how I am to do; for you must know
Nothing, said the officer, but to walk to and fro after you have drank it until your feet become heavy; then lay yourself down, that is all.
Socrates took the cup quietly from him, and, fixing a steadfast look at the officer, asked him if he thought a few drops might be spilled in libation to the gods.
The officer answered, there is no more than the necessary quantity.
It is enough, said Socrates. A prayer, however, I may still address -"Ye gods who call me - vouchsafe me a happy journey."
When he had pronounced these words he raised the cup to his lips, and emptied it without discovering the smallest emotion.
At that moment our fortitude failed us, and a flood of grief burst from us all. - I sunk under my sorrows, and, in order to give a free passage to my tears, covered my face with my mantle.
Crito, who was still less able to restrain his emotions, rose, and walked up and down the prison like a person disordered.
Appollodorus, who had never ceased weeping, almost during the whole day, began now to utter bitter lamentations.
Socrates, who alone continued unmoved, called to us, and said: my friends, be calm; I sent the women away that I might not be troubled with their weakness. I have been told, that a man should endeavor to leave the world amidst prayers and benedictions; I hope, therefore, you will behave yourselves like men.
This unshaken constancy of soul in Socrates made us ashamed, and put a pause to our grief.
He walked about in the prison until his feet began to feel heavy, and then laid himself down on the bed on his back, as he had been directed. Soon after the officer came to observe him; pinched his foot, and asked him if he felt it.
Socrates answered , No.
He did the same to his thigh; but immediately turned round to us, and told us it was cold and stiff. He felt him again, and said, His lower belly begins to be affected: as soon as the poison reaches his heart he will expire.
Socrates, who had been covered by the officer, uncovered himself, and said, Crito, do not forget my friend, to offer a cock to Esculapius; we owe him a sacrifice.
Crito replied, it shall be done. Have you anything further to command?
To this no answer followed.
A moment after he was convulsed. The officer then uncovered him, but his looks were fixed; upon which Crito shut his mouth and eyes.
Such, Execrates, was the end of our friend - a man who, of all men we have known, was certainly the most virtuous, wise, and just.
The Schiller Institute
Thank you for supporting the Schiller Institute. Your membership and contributions enable us to publish FIDELIO Magazine, and to sponsor concerts, conferences, and other activities which represent critical interventions into the policy making and cultural life of the nation and the world.
Contributions and memberships are not tax-deductible.
Home | Search | About | Fidelio | Economy | Strategy | Justice | Conferences | Join