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The Development of Platonic Studies in Britain and the Role of the Utilitarians

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 January 2009


The British utilitarians are not generally considered explorers of classical Greek thought. This paper examines the contribution of James Mill, John Stuart Mill, and George Grote to the development of Platonic studies in nineteenth-century Britain. Their understanding of Platonic philosophy challenged prevalent interpretations, and caused a fruitful debate over long neglected aspects of Plato's thought. Grote's Platonic analysis, which comes last in order of time, cannot, of course, be considered in isolation from the relevant debates in Germany. Grote, the erudite historian of ancient Greece, paid considerable attention to the arguments of the German classicists, put forward in many cases a new point of view, and prompted a radical revaluation of Platonic political thought.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1996

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27 Mill, John Stuart, The Later Letters of John Stuart Mill, ed. Mineka, Francis E. and Lindley, Dwight N., Toronto, 1972Google Scholar, Collected Works of John Stuart Mill (hereafter CW) xvi.1010.

28 Grote, Harriet, The Personal Life of George Grote, London, 1873, p. 276Google Scholar. See also CW xvi.1120, 1160 (letters addressed to Grote, dated 26 Nov. 1865, and 22 April 1866 respectively).

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34 Ibid., 39.

35 Ibid., 40.

36 Ibid., 40, 415.

37 See Schleiermacher, F. D. E., ‘On the Worth of Socrates as a Philosopher’, trans. Thirlwall, Connop, Philological Museum, ii (1833), 538–55Google Scholar.

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53 Gregory Vlastos called Grote the ‘prince of Victorian Platonists; Socrates, Ironist and Moral Philosopher, Cambridge, 1991, p. 4Google Scholar. E. M. Cope judged Grote's work on Plato, as ‘the inauguration of a new era of Platonic criticism’, as indeed it has been. See, Plato's ‘Theaetetus’ and Mr Grote's Criticisms, London, 1866, p. 6Google Scholar. Similarly see, Maurice, F. D., Moral and Metaphysical Philosophy, 2 vols., London, 1882, i.117Google Scholar; Gomperz, T., Greek Thinkers, 4 vols., London, 19011912, ii.104Google Scholar; Sidgwick, H., ‘The Sophists’, in Lectures on the Philosophy of Kant, London 1905, p. 323Google Scholar.

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59 The following scholars rejected many compositions as spurious: Hermann, pp. 413–31; Ast, rejected the Laws, the Meno, Apology, Crito, Euthydemus, Laches, Charmides, Lysis, see pp. 376–85Google Scholar; Ritter, , History of Ancient Philosophy, pp. 162–5Google Scholar; Zeller, E., Platonische Studien, Tubingen, 1839, pp. 1131Google Scholar; Suckow, G. F. W., Die Wissenschaftliche und Kunstlerische Form der Platonischen Schriften, Berlin, 1855, pp. 414–15Google Scholar ; Socher, J., Ueber Platons Schriften, Munich, 1820, pp. 262–91Google Scholar; Ueberweg, F., Untersuchungen uber die Echtheit und Zeitfolge Platonischen Schriften, Vienna, 1861, pp. 108–12Google Scholar; Schone, Richard, Uber Platonis Protagoras, Leipzig, 1862, p. 15Google Scholar. Note that W. Whewell, following the German line of thought, rejected the Parmenides as spurious. See, The Platonic Theory of Ideas, Cambridge, 1856Google Scholar.

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69 See Pangle, T. L., The Roots of Political Philosophy. Ten Forgotten Socratic Dialogues, Ithaca and London, 1987, p. 6Google Scholar.

70 Grote, , Plato, i. 146–51Google Scholar. It is worthwhile to note that Grote's assumption of an ‘Academy edition’ was defended in modern times. See, e.g. Pfeiffer, R., History of Classical Scholarship, Oxford, 1968, pp. 65–6Google Scholar; Philip, J. A., ‘The Platonic Corpus’, Phoenix, xxiv (1970), 306Google Scholar; Solmsen, F., ‘The Academic and Alexandrian Editions of Plato's Works’, Illinois Classical Studies, vi (1981), 102Google Scholar.

71 It is remarkable that even Tennemann, W. G., who wrote at the end of the eighteenth century the voluminous System der Platonischen Philosophic, Leipzig, 17921795Google Scholar, had not challenged the traditional treatment of the corpus. Neither Sydenham nor Taylor gave signs of such a tendency in their works.

72 Davies, J. L., and Vaughan, D. J., who edited the Republic in 1866Google Scholar argued that Grote, ‘in his zeal to take Plato down from his superhuman pedestal’, was ready to accept all works as genuine, The Republic of Plato, 3rd edn., London, 1866, p. viGoogle Scholar. See also the critique of Grote's, view by Blackley, W. L., ‘The authenticity of the works of Plato’, Fortnightly Review, ii (1867), 273Google Scholar; Campbell, L., ‘Grote's Plato’, Quarterly Review, cxix (1866), 144Google Scholar; Benn, A. W., ‘Plato and his Times’, Westminster Review, cxiv (1880), 392Google Scholar. Lewes, G. H., ‘Grote's Plato’, Fortnightly Review, ii (1865), 178–9Google Scholar, and Thursfield, J. R., ‘Grote's Plato’, Westminster Review, lxxxiv (1865), 465Google Scholar, welcomed Grote's argument.

73 See Popper, K. R., The Open Society and Its Enemies, 2nd edn., 2 vols., London, 1952, i.216Google Scholar. W. C. Greene conceived of Grote as the predecessor of anti-Platonists. See, Platonism and its Critics’, Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, lxi (1953), 41Google Scholar. See also, Fite, W., The Platonic Legend, London, 1934, p. 4Google Scholar.

74 Cicero, , Academics Liv.16Google Scholar. See also Diogenes Laertius 111.52.

75 Grote, , Plato, i.278, 324–5, ii.5, 563Google Scholar.

76 Ibid., ii.373. Sewell related Plato's thought with the intuitionist conception of epistemology; see p. 96. See also Whewell's, W.On Plato's Survey of the Sciences’, Transactions of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, ix (1856), 582–9Google Scholar.

77 Grote, , Plato, i.231Google Scholar.

78 See Gillies, John, History of Ancient Greece, 3rd edn., London, 1792Google Scholar; Mitford, William, The History of Greece, 3rd edn., London, 1808Google Scholar. Similarly, see Goldsmith, Oliver, Grecian History, London, 1774Google Scholar, and Stanyan, Temple, The Grecian History, London, 1781Google Scholar.

79 The works of Drummond, William, A Review of the Governments of Sparta and Athens, London, 1794Google Scholar; and Young, William, The History of Athens, London, 1804Google Scholar, had been minor exceptions. However, they were both active politicians rather than scholars, and their arguments, poorly supported by evidence, betray much political prejudice.

80 Grote, , Plato, iii.434Google Scholar.

81 Ibid., 426.

82 Grote, , A History of Greece, 6th edn., 10 vols., London, 1888, vii.738Google Scholar.

83 Grote, , Plato, ii.138Google Scholar.

84 Ibid., 138, iii.211,187, 215, 240.

85 See ibid., ii.490; and BL Add. MS 29,521, fo. 16.

86 Grote, , Plato, iii.409–10, 460Google Scholar.

87 Owen, J., ‘George Grote’, Theological Review, x (1873), 516Google Scholar. Plato, , stated Jowett, B., ‘is not to be measured by the standard of Utilitarianism’, Dialogues of Plato, i.p.xiGoogle Scholar. See also Caird, E., ‘Plato and the other companions of Socrates’, North British Review, xliii (1865), 354Google Scholar; Campbell, L., ‘Grote's Plato’, 125Google Scholar, and Theaetetus of Plato, p. viii; Maguire, Thomas, Essays on the Platonic Ethics, London, 1870, p. 34Google Scholar. B. F. Westcott argued that the positive-prophetic side of Plato requires the most serious consideration. See, The Myths of Plato’, Contemporary Review, ii (1866), 480–1Google Scholar.

88 See e.g. Mackay, R. W., The Sophistes of Plato: A dialogue on true and false teaching, with an introduction on ancient and modern sophistry, London and Edinburgh, 1868, p. 47Google Scholar; Blackie, J. S., Horae Hellenicae, London, 1874, p. 197Google Scholar. As E. R. Dodds noted, Grote was the first who attempted to upset Plato's verdict, but the late Victorian scholars believed that the sophists ‘were no better than Benthamites’. See ‘The Sophistic Movement and the Failure of Greek Liberalism’, in The Ancient Concept of Progress and other Essays on Greek Literature and Belief, Oxford, 1973, pp. 92–3Google Scholar.

89 Sparshott, F. E., speaking about Grote's defence of the sophists, called them ‘philosophic radicals’, ‘Introduction’, in Mill's, J. S. CW, xi.pp.xxii and xxxiiiGoogle Scholar. See also Borchardt, p. 21; Turner, pp. 392, 396.

90 See the 67th chapter of his History of Greece, vii.1–80, and Grote, , Plato, iii.140Google Scholar.

91 See Grote, BL Add. MS 29,529, fo. 35: ‘Plato ventures to claim in his Republic, the coincidence of philosophy and power in the same hands’, i.e. tested knowledge with efficient political administration. Grote is obviously not in disagreement with Plato's underlying idea of the Republic, but only with its practical implications.

92 Grote, himself, took seriously his role as providing a vindication of Plato's philosophy. See History of Greece, vii.62.

93 See Bain's, A. review of the Plato, in Macmillan's Magazine, xii (1865), 472Google Scholar.

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