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  • Platonic JusticeAuthor(s): Hans KelsenSource: Ethics, Vol. 48, No. 3 (Apr., 1938), pp. 367-400Published by: The University of Chicago PressStable URL: 01/04/2010 01:49

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    I HE mark of Platonic philosophy is a radical dualism. The Platonic world is not one of unity; and the abyss which in many ways results from this bifurcation ap-

    pears in innumerable forms. LJt is not one, but two worlds, which Plato sees when with the eyes of his soul he envisages a transcendent, spaceless, and timeless realm of the Idea, the thing-in-itself, the true, absolute reality of tranquil being, and when to this transcendent realm he opposes the perceptible, space-time sphere of his sensuous perception-a sphere which appears to us only as a domain of illusory semblance, of becom- ing in motion, a realm which in reality is not-being. If one of these worlds is taken as the subject-indeed, the only possible subject of valid rational cognition, of pure thought and true knowledge, of episteme-then the other world is the extremely doubtful object of sensuous perception, of mere opinion, doxa.

    This is the same antithesis which appears in the Platonic doctrine of finite and infinite. In the sphere of determination, or of the forms, the principle of freedom prevails, subject to final or normative law. In the sphere of uncertainty or materi- ality, compulsion rules according to the law of cause and effect. A modern philosopher might speak of this as the contrast be- tween spirit and nature, between value and actuality. It is the antithesis of art and experience, of thought and feeling, of active creativity and passive receptivity, of poetry and imitation, of unity and plurality, of totality and sum-total. Expressed in its most general terms, it is the antithesis of the Same and the Other. As concerns human affairs, however, it is the antithesis of the immortal soul which strives for reason and divinity as

    ITranslated from the German by Glenn Negley.



    against the mortal body imprisoned in the senses, a conflict which was of the greatest significance in the Platonic doctrine. Finally, it is the comprehensive opposition which exists in Platonic metaphysics between the celestial, divine beyond and the earthly, human world of the present.

    This multiform, protean dualism, which makes use of the space-time symbolism of over and under, right and left, before and behind, sooner and later, is, in the final analysis and in its most primitive sense, the opposition of good and evil. This ethical connotation is not the only one possible; but it is the primary aspect of the Platonic dualism; it is the deepest layer of Platonic thought in which all others take root as in a nourish- ing soil. The ethical dualism of good and evil is, as it were, an inner ring which is enveloped by the dualism of epistemology and ontology which grew out of and beyond the ethical dualism itself.

    It is evident that the key to all the oppositions in which Platonic thought moves, the real meaning of Platonic dualism, is to be found in the basic treatment of good and evil; but this is true not merely because of the fact that, whenever this oppo- sition between the two worlds occurs in Plato's thought, it appears as an opposition of values, as a separation between a higher and a lower world, between a realm of value and a realm without value. The situation is evident first of all in the fact that the ethical maintains a position of unmistakably primary importance in the Platonic philosophy. It is only in the sphere of ethics, wherein the good is freed from all the material of sensuous experience, that the notion of pure thought is possible. Throughout all the manifold speculations concerned with such a variety of objects as is met with in the Platonic dialogues, through the many deviations from the main subject under con- sideration, the moral idea remains every steady, fixed as a polestar. It alone points the way through the frequent involved trains of thought to the final goal; and this goal of the entire Platonic philosophy, the goal toward which Plato strives from


    the most diverse points of view and with the greatest energy from the first to the last of his works-that goal is the absolute good. The good, however, is inconceivable, apart from evil. If good is to be the object of cognition, then cognition must also recognize evil; and this is true in the Platonic philosophy, which is by no means a doctrine of the good as it is usually represented, but a speculation concerning good-evil.

    It is true that the idea of the good in the Platonic representa- tion stands out more clearly than the conception of evil; the reflections concerned with good are developed with more force and clarity than are those which have evil as their object. It is natural that the will as well as the thought of the moralist should be directed upon the good. Evil would not be thought of at all were it not for the necessity of conceiving it as the antithesis of the good; but it remains as subordinate-merely tolerated in the glorious apotheosis of the good. As it is only a shadow in the light of the good, it must remain a shadow in all representations of the good. Only in the last of the Platonic writings does evil assume a more solid form and become estab- lished like the good in the form of a particular substance. Only in a late period of his creativity did evil become for Plato a reality, a being, and then only after he had been forced to recognize that the representation of evil as becoming in onto- logical dualism was, in fact, an indication of being. This is the reason why the original conception of Platonic dualism holds that only the world of the Idea partakes of real existence; the world of the Idea is the world of the good simply because the good is the central idea-in fact, the Idea. On the other hand, the world of things, of becoming, must be regarded as not-being, because this world of becoming, the empirical world of sensuous, perceptible reality, the temporal world of factual events-this is the world of evil, in so far as it is in opposition to the world of the good. It can be none other than a world of evil, although Plato did not explicitly designate it as such. By definition, only the good shall be; evil shall not be; and for this reason, evil is


    not-being, and only the good is being. For ethical thought, shall implies being; because the moralist intends that evil shall not be, it becomes for him not-being. In this manner he satisfies will by cognition; and this primacy of the will over cognition, which is decisive for moral character, appears as the primacy of obligation (shall) over existence (being), of value over ac- tuality.

    In the pure system of the good there is no place for evil. This is expressed in the Platonic speculation concerning good-evil, as well as in other such speculations, by denying the quality of being to evil or its ontological representation. What shall be, is; it has "real" existence even though-or because-that which appears to us as being, shall not be. For this reason, it is neces- sary that a distinction be made between true or real being and apparent being; that which has being from an ordinary point of view must be reduced to the status of a mere semblance of being. Thought which is directed toward true being must be placed above the sensuous perception of this semblance of being; ethics must take precedence over natural science in order that the good, that which shall be, can be asserted as really being. On the other hand, that which appears as being for ordinary perception shall not be, because it is not the good; it is evil, and as evil it is not-being. Similarly, every attempt to explain the world in ethical terms, every speculation concerning good and evil, has done violence to the naturalistic conception. The world-view which is based upon the reality of sensuous experi- ence, i.e., knowledge afforded by nature, is directly inverted by the view which has its origin in the ethical justification of value and spirit.

    Because evil is the complete negation of good, ethical dual- ism in its original sense is absolute. The tendency to give ab- solute form to conceivable oppositions is a rather sure sign of nor