1902 Encyclopedia > Evolution > Evolution in Philosophy: Plato. Early Platonists.

(Part 11)


Plato.—Plato need to be referred to here only because of the strongly marked opposition of his philosophy to the teaching of evolution. It is true (as Zeller remarks) that Plato’s whole philosophy was directed less to the explanation of becoming than to the consideration of being. So far, however, as the highly cosmology at the Timaeus may be taken as indicating Plato’s way of looking at the successive order of the world, we see that it widely deviates from that of the evolutionist. Thus the notion of the Demiurgus is distinctly contradictory of the idea of a natural process of evolution. Again, the supposition that the world of particular things is somehow determined by pre-existing universal ideas lends itself rather to a theory of emanation as a descent from the more perfect to the less perfect than to a doctrine of evolution. It became the basis of that doctrine of universal essences or types which for ages interfered with a scientific explanation of organic forms. Again Plato exactly reverses the order of evolution in his way of looking at the scale of organic beings and souls, since he sets out with the highest and most perfect, the divine cosmos, and passes downwards to man and the lower animals viewed as successive degradations.

Early Platonists.—Among the early followers of Plato, Speusippus deserves mention here in so far as h e assimilated the course of the world to the development of the individual by regarding it as a progress from imperfection to perfection.5 Xenocrates again to have viewed the


(1) This is brought out by F. Lasselle, Die Philosophie Herakleitos, p. 126.

(2) Zeller observes that Heraclitus fails to tell us what are the elements which conflict.

(3) Grote says the idea of these multifarious forms of matter was suggested by the phenomena of animal nutrition.—Plato, i. 55.

(4) It is observed by Ferrier that the doctrine of Anaxagoras reverses the order of the Atomists, by regarding the transition as one from the complex to the seemingly simple. It is no doubt true that the chief aim of Anaxagoras was to explain not so much the diversity as the orderly arrangement of individual things. Yet his conception of the primal chaos involves at least the notion of an apparent homogeneity or uniformity, no particles being distinguishable from the rest. (See Grote, op. cit., i. 51). Grote even assimilates the chaos of Anaxagoras to the primordial indeterminate of Anaximander.

(5) Speusippus differed from Plato by making good the end and not the efficient cause of being (see Zeller, Plato, p. 568 sq.).

whole of the cosmos as a graduated scale of animate existence.

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