Greek Philosophy: Part I Thales to Plato

Greek Philosophy: Part I Thales to Plato

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Greek Philosophy: Part I Thales to Plato

Greek Philosophy: Part I Thales to Plato

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Excerpt

No one will ever succeed in writing a history of philosophy; for philosophies, like works of art, are intensely personal things. It was Plato's belief, indeed, that no philosophical truth could be communicated in writing at all it was only by some sort of immediate contact that one soul could kindle the flame in another. Now in dealing with the philosophy of an earlier age, we are wholly confined to written records, and these are usually fragmentary and often second-hand or of doubtful authority. They are written, too, in a language which at best we only half understand, and have been moulded by influences for the most part beyond our ken. It will only, therefore, be in so far as the historian can reproduce the Platonic contact of souls that his work will have value. In some measure this is possible. Religious faith often seems able to break through the barriers of space and time, and so to apprehend its object directly; but such faith is something personal and incommunicable, and in the same way the historian's reconstruction of the past is primarily valid for himself alone. It is not a thing he can hand over readymade to others. There is nothing mysterious about this aspect either of religious faith or of philological interpretation. On the contrary, all knowledge has the same character. In the present case it only means that a man who tries to spend his life in sympathy with the ancient philosophers will sometimes find a direct conviction forcing itself . . .

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