On “The Good” and “The One” of Plato
by Thomas Taylor,
from an extensive note in his translation of The Republic
The good, which is here celebrated by Socrates as that which reigns in the intelligible place, is neither the same with that which subsists in our nature, (for we rank in an order far below intelligibles) nor with that form of things good, which is coordinate with the just and the beautiful. For, forms being twofold, some alone distinguishing the essences of the things fashioned by form, but others their perfections, the genus of essence, same and different, and the form of animal, horse and man, and every thing of this kind, give distinction to essence and subjects; but the form of the good, the beautiful and the just, and in like manner the form of virtue, health, strength, and every thing of a similar nature, are perfective of the beings to which they belong: and of some, essence is the leader of every thing, but of others the good. For, as Plato says, every thing must necessarily participate of essence; and whatever preserves, gives perfection to, or defends any being must be good. Hence, since these two are leaders, the one of forms which give subsistence to things, and the other of such as are the sources of their perfection; it is necessary that one of these should be subordinate to the other; I mean that the good which is allotted a coordination among forms that are the sources of perfection should be subordinate to essence, which ranks among causes whence subsistence originates, if the good is being and a certain being. For it is either the same with or different from essence, which the Eleatean guest in the Sophista shows to be the genus of being. And if the good is the same with essence, an absurdity must ensue: for being and well-being are not the same. But if the good is something different from essence, it must necessarily participate of essence, in consequence of that being the genus of all forms. But if genera are more ancient than forms, the good which ranks among forms, and is posterior to their genus, will not be the good which reigns over in intelligibles; but this must be asserted of that good under which this and every form is arranged which possesses being, and which is the leader of the other genera of being. When therefore Plato says that the good reigns over intelligibles, he means that good which is superior to essence.
But to lead us up to this supreme good, he appears to employ three orders of good as so many steps in this arduous ascent; viz. that which is imparticipable and superessential, that which is imparticipable and essential, and that which is essential and participable. On these the last is such as our nature contains; the good which ranks among forms is essential; and that which is beyond essence is superessential. Or we may say that the good which subsists in us may be considered as a habit, in consequence of its subsisting in a subject; the next to this ranks as essence, and a part of essence, I mean the good which ranks among forms; and the last as that which is neither a habit nor a part. When therefore Socrates says, that “to the multitude pleasure seems to be the good, and to the more elegant it seems to be prudence,” he signifies that good which is resident in our nature, and which, from its being an impression of the ineffable principle of things, may be called the summit or flower of our essence. And when he also says that the idea of the good is the greatest discipline, which renders both such things as are just, and other things which employ it, useful and profitable, and that we do not sufficiently know it,—these assertions accord with the good which is in us, with that which is in forms, and with that which is understood to be before all things. For the idea of the good signifies a participated form, a separate intelligible, and that which has a separate subsistence prior to intelligibles; since the term idea, according to Plato, indicates that object of desire which is established prior to all things, viz. prior to all things belonging to a certain series. Thus, for instance, the good in our nature is prior to every thing else pertaining to the soul; the good which ranks among forms is prior to every thing which is the source of essential perfection; and the good which reigns in the intelligible world is prior to every series, and to all things.
Again, when Socrates says, “Let us at present dismiss this inquiry what the good is, for it appears to me a greater thing than we can arrive at according to our present impulse,” it may be inferred, that though he appears to say something concerning the good from an image, and to unveil something pertaining to things occult, yet he does not unfold the whole truth concerning it; and this perhaps in consequence of Thrasymachus and Clitopho being present, and not thinking it fit to disclose the most mystical truths to sophists. Hence, on his asserting after wards that the good is superessential, he appeared to Glauco to peak ridiculously; and in consequence of Glauco in vain attempting the vision of that which is beyond all things, he again says that he willingly omits many things, and alone unfolds the analogy respecting the sun. But if his hearers had been adapted to such discourses, he would have disclosed to us many and truly theological particulars respecting it; and such as he discloses to us in the Parmenides concerning the one.
As we have said, therefore, Plato, transferring the investigation from the good which is in us, and concerning which those inquire who say that it is prudence or pleasure, to the good itself, and beginning the image respecting the sun, in the first place, he exhorts his hearers to take care that he does not give them an adulterate account of the offspring of the good; calling the sun the offspring, and transferring the term adulterate from the impressions in coin. He also indicates that the mode of teaching by analogy is not safe. For there is danger of introducing sophistry into the demonstration, by considering things beyond what the analogy will admit. Thus, in the present instance, if in consequence of Plato asserting that the sun is analogous to the good, so far as the former is the cause of light, as the latter is of truth, some one should consider the sun, no longer as the cause alone of light, but so far as it is moved, and should investigate that which is similar to this motion, in the good, he would no longer preserve the proper analogy. For the sun is not analogously assumed, so far as he is a thing caused, but so far as he is a cause alone; since it is impossible to assume any thing which is in all respects similar to the good. For every thing posterior to the good, by the assumption of something becomes worse than the good; one thing by assuming intelligence, as intellect; another by assuming motion, as soul; and another by the assumption of generation, as body. If therefore, in intellects, in souls, and in bodies, you consider that which is first in each, as analogous to the good, you must consider it so far only as it is similar to the good, viz. so far as it is the leader of its subject series, and is imparticipable with respect to a subordinate nature, and not so far as it is separated from the good. For every thing which is assumed analogously to the good, must necessarily possess dissimilitude in conjunction with similitude. Analogies however and ratios are not assumed according to the dissimilar, but on the contrary according to the similar.
Again, when in the beginning of this discourse about the good, and wishing to determine that some forms are intelligible and others sensible, he makes mention of the beautiful itself and the good itself, and, placing these as the forms of many things beautiful an good, he says that sensible forms are seen indeed, but are not the objects of intellect, but that ideas are the object of intellect, and not of the sensible eye,—it is evident that he refers us to ideas, and the universal prior to the many. If therefore Plato had added nothing further, we should not have had any authority from the Republic for conceiving any other good than this, which is the first among forms that give perfection to things; but since he touches on the analogy respecting the sun, sight and light, he in a wonderful manner asserts that all intelligible ideas, the beautiful itself, the good itself, the just itself, and not these only, but those of actions also, are illuminated by the good. Here therefore he ascends to the first cause of wholes, which he is unable to call by a better name than the good: for the good is the most venerable of all things, and is that which all things desire; and that which all things desire is the cause of all. Fearful however lest we should apprehend a first of such a kind as that good which is the cause of perfection alone in ideas, he shows in the first place that the good is beyond science and truth, in the same manner as the sun is beyond sight and light; and afterwards he evinces that it is the primary cause of intelligibles, and is superessential, in the same manner as the sun is above generation; and thus he shows that the good itself is the first cause of the good and the beautiful in forms, and of all intelligible essences.
But that we may not deviate from the doctrine through analogy, he says that the sun is analogous to the good, not according to any thing else than his being the cause of light, through which all visible things are seen: I mean, not so far as the sun has a body, and a corporeal place, and is moveable. And again, such a light is analogous to truth, not so far as it possesses interval, or all-various refractions, but so far only as it imparts the power of being seen to things visible, and light to things that see; in the same manner as truth imparts to intelligibles the power of being intellectually apprehended, and to intelligent natures the power of intellectual perception; and visible objects are analogous to intelligibles, not as subsisting in place and being moved, but as visible alone.
These things being premised, it is shown by Socrates that the good is beyond truth, in the same manner as the sun is beyond light: and hence it follows that the good does not participate of truth. For that which is above truth neither is truly, nor can truly be any thing else: so that if the good is, but is not truly, it will be that which is not truly being. But this is impossible. For, according to Plato, that which is not truly being subsists after true being. But the good is not true being, since it generates truth; and it must be entirely unreceptive of that which it generates. But all true being necessarily participates of truth. Hence it follows that the good is above being. For, if being is truly being, but the good gives subsistence to truth, which is inseparable from and characterizes being, it must also be above being.
Again, when Socrates says, “You know that the eyes, when they are no longer directed towards objects whose colours are shone upon by the light of day, but by the splendour of the night, grow dim, and appear almost blind, as if they had in them no pure sight. But when they turn to objects which the sun illuminates, then I think they see clearly, and in those very eyes there appears now to be light:” he here makes a division in things visible into colours, light, eyes, and the sun. Afterwards he adduces things analogous to those in the objects of intellect, as follows: “Understand then in the same manner with reference to the soul: when it firmly adheres to that which truth and real being enlighten, then it understands and knows it, and appears to posses intellect: but when it adheres to that which is blended with darkness, which is generated, and which perishes, it is then conversant with opinion, its vision becomes blunted, it wanders from one opinion to another, and resembles one without intellect.” Socrates, therefore, assumes being analogous to colour, truth to light, and the good to the sun. He also places being after truth, in the same manner as colour after light and the sun. The good therefore is beyond being. For he does not say that which beings enlighten, but that which being enlightens. If therefore the good is above being, it will also necessarily be above essence.
Having asserted these things through analogy, he adds what is still greater, that the good is the cause of intelligibles, not of their being understood only, but also of their essence, in the same manner as the sun is the cause to things visible, not only of their being seen, but of their generation, nourishment and increase; and, as he is not generation, in like manner the good is not essence. It is evident, therefore, that the good, being the cause of an intelligible essence, will be in the most eminent degree superessential; for these, as will appear from the Parmenides, are superessential essences, or, in other words, beings absorbed in the superessential. It likewise follows from this analogy that truth also is superessential; for Socrates says that this illuminates all things that are known, in the same manner as the light of the sun irradiates visible objects. Truth indeed appears to be an illumination from the superessential principle of wholes, which both intelligible and intellectual natures participate, and which unites them to themselves, and to each other. Hence it is said to impart the power of being intellectually apprehended to the former, and of intellectual vision to the latter: for these could not be conjoined without a certain common bond. As light therefore illuminates visible and visive natures, but conjoins both through similitude, imparting to both a greater light than they contained before—in the same manner that which is intellective and that which is intelligible, being united by truth, coalesce with each other.
From hence also it will follow that the good cannot be known either by opinion or science. That it cannot indeed be known by opinion may be easily proved. For Plato, with great propriety, considers the object of opinion as that which is partly being, and partly non-being. It is also evident that the good is not the object of science. For, if every object of science is known from from a cause, that of which there is no cause cannot be scientifically known. And if the good is above truth, it will not be so known as intelligibles are known to intellectual natures. It can therefore only be known by a divine projection of the summit of the soul, a projection of that which is better than intellect, and which Plato* calls the ray of the soul. According to Plato, the soul inclining this ray should project herself to the good through an ablation of all things posterior to it. For he clearly says that it is necessary to take away the idea of the good from all things, and thus to incline towards it the ray of the soul, if we in tend to perceive it, itself by itself. From these thing therefore it is evident, by what kind of knowledge the good is known, how it is known, and how it is the last discipline, and what the dialectic method contributes to the vision of it, by leading the intellect of the soul up to it, through a scientific series of ablations.
Again, since Socrates asserts that the good is not only beyond essence, but likewise above that which is (επεκεινα του ειναι) it follows that it is not proper to say the good is; and hence neither is it proper to say that it is not; for again this assertion that it is not is common to other things, to which non-being is adapted. Both therefore must be said, that it is neither being nor non-being; and in consequence of this, it is called by some unknown and ineffable; since every thing is either being or non-being. Nor must we suppose, when Plato calls the good known, and the last discipline, and every thing of this kind, that he removes us from an indefinite energy about it, and apprehends it to be known in such a manner as beings: for these are known, and are the objects of scientific knowledge, according to that most accurate mode of science which he defines, and according to which he despises the sciences which originate from hypothesis. For thus he speaks, teaching us his conceptions about these particulars: that other sciences, or which appear to be such, make hypotheses their principles; but dialectic alone being impelled to the principle, takes away hypotheses, till it discovers that which is truly the principle, not as an hypothesis, but truly unhypothetical. But such a principle is the one, in which every subsistence of things known terminates. From these things, therefore, it is evident, that calling dialectic the defensive enclosure of things which appear to be sciences, and defining that which is truly science, he says that dialectic, beginning from an unhypothetic principle, considers the nature of every thing. If therefore beholding also the idiom of the good, and in what respect it differs from other things, this science speculates from an unhypothetic principle, this perhaps will be a certain science, and a science of the good, what it truly is, or is not. But if this is the principle of all thing, and a principle cannot be assumed of a principle, by what contrivance can it be said that there is a certain science of the good? For every scientific object is apprehended from an unhypothetic principle; and that which is so apprehended is properly a scientific object: but the good is not apprehended from an unhypothetic principle, because it has not any principle whatever. So that, if this is the definition of science, the good is by no means an object of scientific knowledge. From hence also it again follows that the good is not being, since Plato most clearly asserts that science is of being; but that faith pertains to that which appears and is sensible, the dianoëtic power to dianoëtic objects, assimilation to things assimilated, opinion to sensibles and things assimilated, and intelligence to intelligibles. And this he not only asserts here, but in the Timæus also he says, that “what essence is to generation, that faith is to truth,” and attributes arguments which cannot be confuted to beings, but assimilative arguments to generated natures, signifying that science is speculative of true beings. If therefore being is the object of scientific knowledge, but the good cannot be scientifically known, the good is not being.
Hence we mull conclude that the good is only to be known by an ablation or all things from its ineffable nature; and this is what Socrates insinuates when in the 7th book he speaks of separating the idea of the good from all others, and as in a battle piercing through all arguments. It is not therefore either science, or truth, or being: and if employing these things as principles we are willing to consider the consequences, we shall find that if the goad is not being, it is neither same nor different, neither moved nor at rest, neither possesses figure nor number, is neither similar nor dissimilar, is neither equal nor unequal, nor participates of time; all which Parmenides collects in the first hypothesis, and, having collected, adds, that there is neither science nor opinion of the one, for it is beyond generation and essence. So that whatever is asserted of the one, in the Parmenides of Plato, must also necessarily be asserted of the good, from what is here delivered by Plato concerning it; and hence the good, according to Plato, is the same with the one. We not only therefore have this information from the assertions of Socrates, that the goad is not the object of scientific knowledge, but that it may after another manner be known through arguments and ablations.
* In the 7th book of this Dialogue, near the end: As man is a microcosm, this ray of his soul will evidently be analogous to truth, or superessential light, in the intelligible worlds will be the summit of the soul, and that which the Platonists very properly call the one and the flower of our nature: for it is an illumination from the ineffable principle of all things.