Western Philosophy
Ancient philosophy
Plato - (ca. 427-347 B.C.)
Name: Plato
Birth: c.427–428 BC
Death: 347 BC
School/tradition: Platonism
Main interests: Rhetoric, Art, Literature, Epistemology, Justice, Virtue, Politics, Education, Family, Militarism
Notable ideas: Platonic realism
Influences: Socrates, Homer, Hesiod, Aristophanes, Aesop, Protagoras, Parmenides, Pythagoras, orphism (religion)
Influenced: Aristotle, Saint Augustine and countless other western philosophers and theologians

Plato (ancient Greek: Πλάτων, Plátōn, "wide, broad-shouldered") (c. 428/427 BC[a]–c. 348/347 BC) was an ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the western world. Plato is widely believed to have been a student of Socrates and to have been deeply influenced by his unjust execution. Plato and Socrates are seen together in 'The School of Athens' (1510) by Raphael

Plato's brilliance as a writer and thinker is proven in his Socratic dialogues. Some of the works that are ascribed to him, including some dialogues, letters, and lawbooks are considered spurious. Plato is thought to have lectured at the Academy, although the pedagogical function of his dialogues, if any, is not known.





Family and early years

The exact birthdate of Plato is not known. Based on ancient sources, most modern scholars estimate that he was born in Athens or Aegina[b] between 428 and 427 BC.[a] His father was Ariston, the son of Aristocles, of the deme of Colytus. According to a tradition, reported by Diogenes Laertius but disputed by Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, Ariston traced his descent from the king of Athens, Codrus, and the king of Messenia, Melanthus.[1] That claim is not however exploited in the philosopher's dialogues.[2] Plato's mother was Perictione, whose family boasted of a relationship with the famous Athenian lawmaker and lyric poet Solon.[3] Periction was sister of Charmides and Critias, both prominent figures of the Thirty Tyrants, the brief oligarchic regime, which followed on the collapse of Athens at the end of the Peloponnesian war (404-403 BC).[4] Besides Plato himself, Ariston and Perictione had three other children; these were two sons, Adeimantus and Glaucon, and a daughter, Potone.[4] According to the Republic, Adeimantus and Glaucon were older than Plato; the two brothers distinguished themselves in the Battle of Megara, when Plato could not have been more than 5 years old.[5] Nevertheless, in his Memorabilia, Xenophon presents Glaucon as younger than Plato.[6]

Ariston appears to have died in Plato's childhood, although the precise dating of his death is difficult.[7] Perictione then married Pyrilampes, her mother's brother,[8] who had a son from a previous marriage, Demus, who was famous for his beauty.[9] Perictione gave birth to Pyrilampes' second son, Antiphon, the half-brother of Plato, who appears in Parmenides, where he is said to have given up philosophy, in order to devote most of his time to horses.[10]

According to a late Hellenistic account by Diogenes Laertius, Plato's given name was Aristocles. His wrestling coach, Ariston of Argos, dubbed him "Platon", meaning "broad" on account of his robust figure. Diogenes mentions alternative accounts that Plato derived his name from the breadth (platutês) of his eloquence, or else because he was very wide (platus) across the forehead. He was raised in a moderately affluent aristocratic family of four children. According to Dicaearchus, Plato wrestled at the Isthmian games. Such was his learning and ability that the ancient Greeks declared him to be the son of Apollo and told how, in his infancy, bees had settled on his lips, as prophecy of the honeyed words which were to flow from them.


Later life

Plato may have traveled in Italy, Sicily, Egypt and Cyrene. Said to have returned to Athens at the age of forty, Plato founded one of the earliest known organized schools in Western Civilization on a plot of land in the Grove of Hecademus or Academus. The Academy was "a large enclosure of ground which was once the property of a citizen at Athens named Academus... some, however, say that it received its name from an ancient hero" (Robinson, Arch. Graec. I i 16), and it operated until 529 AD, when it was closed by Justinian I of Byzantium, who saw it as a threat to the propagation of Christianity. Many intellectuals were schooled in the Academy, the most prominent one being Aristotle.


Plato's Dialogues

Plato's dialogues are written in the form of a conversation between Socrates and one or several characters. Plato sets a great variety of characters, young and old, obscure and well-known, foreign and Athenian, up against Socrates. The dialogues often employ actual historical figures from the late fifth and early fourth centuries BC as characters. Well known sophists, political and military figures, businessmen and soothsayers, as well as writers and thinkers of every type— orators, poets, playwrights, speechwriters, and philosophers — participate directly or indirectly as characters in the dialogues. Along with Homer's epic poems, Plato's dialogues are perhaps the single more important Greek contribution to the Western classics.

Plato often depicts Socrates in intellectual combat with self-important men who over-sell their talents. For example, the sophists Protagoras, Gorgias, and Hippias, are depicted as know-it-alls in their namesake dialogues, Meno is a self-appointed moralist who owns a drove of slaves, Ion a rhapsode as much in love with himself as with Homer, and Euthyphro a soothsayer who thinks that his own behavior to be almost divine.

In many dialogues, Socrates is found defending outrageous claims that he readily admits no one will accept. He argues that evil should never be resisted (Crito), that voluntary lies are better than "involuntary" lies (Lesser Hippias), that evil doers should go unpunished (Gorgias), that male-female love is lewd and that man-boy love is pure and that a woman told him this (Symposium), that the best poetry has the worst effects upon the soul (Republic), that death is better than life and nothing to fear and that the psyche is immortal (Apology, Phaedo), that piety has nothing to do with the gods (Euthyphro), that writing is a bad invention (Phaedrus), that the best way to capture a love object is to destroy his self-confidence (Lysis), that knowledge is recollection (Meno, Theaetetus, Phaedo), that good character has nothing to do with good parenting (Protagoras, Meno). The opinions Socrates promotes range from unpopular and unintuitive to immoral and absurd, but they are rarely dull.

Socrates is believed to have been an actual living personage, but how much of any given dialogue is historically accurate is heavily disputed. Socrates himself did not write anything, and no objective (non-literary) record of his life and/or philosophy exists. Besides Plato's dialogues, only two other sources of information about Socrates are still in existence, and these raise more questions than they resolve. The celebrated comic playwright Aristophanes refers disparagingly to Socrates in several dialogues, and in one play, The Clouds, he is a lead character, a bamboozler-sophist who is head of an ancient think tank that teaches immoral logic. The third source is the works of Xenophon, whose Socratic dialogues are not thought to provide insight into the Socratic problem: who was Socrates?, what exactly did he teach and to whom?, and what was his relation to Plato?


Plato and Socrates

Plato hints that he was part of the Socratic entourage but never says so explicitly. In the Phaedo the title character lists those who were in attendance at the prison on Socrates' last day and says "Plato was ill" (Phaedo 59b). In the Apology, Plato distances himself from the inner circle. Socrates says there that the brothers of several of his former associates are in the audience. He says that Plato, brother to Adeimantus, was present (Apology 34a). Adeimantus appears in the Republic as a disputant.


Narration of the dialogues

Plato never presents himself as a participant in any of the dialogues, and with the exception of the Apology, he does not claim to have heard any of the dialogues firsthand. Some dialogues have no narrator (examples: Meno, Gorgias, Phaedrus, Crito, Euthyphro), some dialogues are narrated by Socrates, wherein he speaks in first person (examples: Lysis, Charmides, Apology, Republic). In one dialog, Protagoras, Socrates narrates to an unnamed friend a conversation he had previously with the sophist whose name gives title to the dialogue.

Three dialogues, Phaedo, Symposium, and Theaetetus, are narrated by disciples of Socrates, and all, apparently, from distant memories. Phaedo, an account of Socrates' final conversation and hemlock drinking, is narrated by Phaedo to Echecrates in a foreign city many years after the execution took place. The Symposium is narrated by Apollodorus, a Socratic disciple, apparently to Glaucon. Apollodorus assures his listener that he is recounting the story, which took place when he himself was an infant, not to the best of his own memory, but to the best memory of Aristodemus, who told him the story years ago. In the Theaetetus (142c-143b), Euclides says that he compiled the conversation from notes he took based on what Socrates told him of his conversation with the title character. With the exception of the Theaetetus, Plato gives no hint as to how these orally transmitted conversations came to be written down, least of all by himself.

Plato's absence from the dialogues is at odds with traditional belief that he was a disciple and part of the inner circle. The question of why Plato distances himself from three of his greatest dialogues explicitly by time, place, and authorship has never been satisfactorily answered.

Tradition tends to see Plato as writing a kind of "pseudo-history" of the life of Socrates, but the chronologies of the characters are inconsistent. For example, in the Protagoras, Alcibiades and Agathon are teenage boys growing beards (and the respective beloveds of Socrates and Pausanias), and Apollodoros and Glaucon are fathers of teenage sons. When the Symposium allegedly took place, however, Glaucon and Apollodorus were infants and Alcibiades and Agathon were full-grown men (and Alcibiades is said to be older than his beloved Agathon). This chronological discrepancy does not appear to be inadvertent, and suggests that Plato is not an historical writer.

Plato's dialogues bear at least some similarities to the classical plays, in having no more than three speakers "on stage" (speaking) at one time, and in often having "a chorus" of (silent) listeners.


Trial of Socrates

The trial of Socrates is the central, unifying event of the great Socratic dialogues. Because of this, Socrates' Apology is perhaps the most often read of the dialogues. In the Apology, Socrates tries to dismiss rumors that he is a sophist and defends himself against charges of not believing in the gods and corruption of the young. Socrates insists that long-standing slander will be the real cause of his demise, and says the legal charges are essentially false. Socrates famously denies being wise, and explains how his life as a philosopher was launched by the oracle at Delphi. He says that his quest to resolve the riddle of the oracle put him at odds with his fellow man, and this is the reason he has been mistaken for a menace to the city-state of Athens.

The trial of Socrates is anomalous: from what is known about Athens in the fifth century BC, it should not have taken place (see Gorgias 461e and Crito 45e). Atheism or similar charges were not a crime in free-speech Athens. It was not even unusual among intellectuals, nor condemned by the masses. The prize-winning plays of Aristophanes were not merely atheist, but made fun of the gods and their prophets and oracles. There is no record that Aristophanes was prosecuted for atheism, and some have speculated that comics enjoyed special immunities. However, there is no evidence of this. It is also puzzling that Socrates exonerates himself in large part by claiming to be sent on his philosophic mission by Apollo, an important figure in the standard Greek pantheon.


Unity and diversity of the dialogues

If Plato's important dialogues do not refer to Socrates' execution explicitly, they allude to it, or use characters or themes that play a part in it. Five dialogues foreshadow the trial: In the Theaetetus (210d) and the Euthyphro (2a–b) Socrates tells people that he is about to face corruption charges. In the Meno (94e–95a), one of the men who brings legal charges against Socrates, Anytus, warns him about the trouble he may get into if he does not stop criticizing important people. In the Gorgias, Socrates says that his trial will be like a doctor prosecuted by a cook who asks a jury of children to choose between the doctor's bitter medicine and the cook's tasty treats (521e–522a). In the Republic (7.517e), Socrates explains why an enlightened man (presumably himself) will stumble in a courtroom situation. The Apology is Socrates' defense speech, and the Crito and Phaedo take place in prison after the conviction. In the Protagoras, Socrates is a guest at the home of Callias, son of Hipponicus, a man whom Socrates disparages in the Apology as having wasted a great amount of money on sophists' fees.

Two other important dialogues, the Symposium and the Phaedrus, are linked to the main storyline by characters. In the Apology (19b, c), Socrates says Aristophanes slandered him in a comic play, and blames him for causing his bad reputation, and ultimately, his death. In the Symposium, the two of them are drinking together with other friends. The character Phaedrus is linked to the main story line by character (Phaedrus is also a participant in the Symposium and the Protagoras) and by theme (the philosopher as divine emissary, etc.) The Protagoras is also strongly linked to the Symposium by characters: all of the formal speakers at the Symposium (with the exception of Aristophanes) are present at the home of Callias in that dialogue. Charmides and his guardian Critias are present for the discussion in the Protagoras. Examples of characters crossing between dialogues can be further multiplied. The Protagoras contains the largest gathering of Socratic associates.

In the dialogues for which Plato is most celebrated and admired, Socrates is concerned with human and political virtue, has a distinctive personality, and friends and enemies who "travel" with him from dialogue to dialogue. This is not to say that Socrates is consistent: a man who is his friend in one dialogue may be an adversary or subject of his mockery in another. For examples of this, Socrates praises the wisdom of Euthyphro many times in the Cratylus, and makes him look like a fool in the Euthyphro; he disparages sophists generally, and Prodicus specifically in the Apology, yet tell Theaetetus in his namesake dialogue that he admires him and has directed many pupils to him. Socrates' ideas are also not consistent within or between or among dialogues.

Many other dialogues ascribed to Plato also use the Socratic character, but do not share this pronounced concern for virtue. In these dialogues, Plato uses Socrates as a mere name, a voice-marker who does not have the distinctive, self-deprecating wit of the important dialogues. The metaphysical dialogues attributed to Plato do not contain material of human interest, but are very abstract and read by specialists.

The dialogues have been divided by influential scholarship into the early, middle and late periods. The late Princeton scholar and classist, Gregory Vlastos argued that the Euthyphro, Apology, Crito and Phaedo were written first and are a more or less historical record of the philosophy of the historical character Socrates. Vlastos aim was to account for the obvious contradictions among dialogues. He argues that Plato's early dialogues represent Socratic philosophy, and that in the so-called middle and later dialogues, Plato expresses his own, quite different philosophy. Even Vlastos admitted that this division is not well-supported by the dialogues themselves. Nevertheless, his theory continues to be extremely influential.


The question of Socratic literacy

Tradition has long puzzled over why Socrates did not leave a written legacy. The ancient Greeks had been highly literate for several hundred years before the Golden Age of Greece. Entire works and fragments remain from dozens of poets, philosophers, scientists, and rhetoricians. Socrates left not even a single line, and in only one dialogue indicates that he might have ever personally put pen to paper. In the Phaedo, Socrates tells his disciples that he has spent his last days in prison writing songs using material from Aesop's fables. Aesop's fables are little satires which employ animal characters and represent the low-end of Greek literature.

Plato hints that Socrates may have been only semi-literate.[citation needed] In the Phaedo, Socrates is reported to have said that he got his idea that mind is the cause of everything from a man who was reading a book out loud. He said the man told him the author was Anaxagoras (Phaedo 97c). This suggests that Socrates was not in a position to personally verify, but the reader is not told precisely why. In the Apology, Socrates seems to reject the wisdom of Anaxagoras, saying that his silly (atheist) ideas about the sun being a stone and the earth being a mass of earth, and not gods, can be purchased in the market for a drachma (Apology 26d,e).

Socrates is similarly (apparently) inconsistent in his attitude towards Homer, the most revered writer in classical Greece. He famously recommends in the Republic that favorites like Homer's Iliad and Odyssey be rewritten, and Homer be sent into exile (Repub. 3.398a,b). He avers here and later in the dialogue that the more poetic and lovely writing is, the worse is its effect upon the soul. Socrates believes that the best literature gives unambiguous praise to good men, and criticism to bad men, and that anything else is confusing. In a related inconsistency, Socrates mistakes the basic plot of the Iliad in the Apology (where he says Achilles did not fear death) and in the Republic (where he says that Achilles greedily took Agamemnon's bribe), yet in Ion, Socrates quotes the Iliad flawlessly, also, in Phaedo, Socrates uses an example from the Odyssey to prove his point, and he refers to Homer as "the divine Homer".

In the Phaedrus Socrates criticizes the innovation of writing because it implants forgetfulness in the soul of the reader and because writing so often gets into the hands of people who have no business with it (275a-e). This critical attitude towards literature comes from Socrates, whose ideas cannot be simply conflated with Plato's personal ideology. Plato's mastery of Greek is unquestionable: the grammatical and rhetorical structures of the dialogues are extremely complex; the arguments and analogies, stories and fables, and allusions and allegories are unmatched in cleverness; the wealth of his themes has no parallel, ancient or modern.



Raphael's Plato in The School of Athens fresco, probably in the likeness of Leonardo da Vinci. Plato gestures to the heavens, representing his belief in The Forms.
Raphael's Plato in The School of Athens fresco, probably in the likeness of Leonardo da Vinci. Plato gestures to the heavens, representing his belief in The Forms.


Some of Plato's dialogues are framed by human elements. The clearest example of this is Phaedo, wherein Socrates dismisses his wife Xanthippe from the prison at the beginning of the dialogue, and again towards the end. The frame elements suggest that Socrates' relationship with his disciples, who mourn the loss of their spiritual "father" is more important to him than his biological family. In this dialogue, an entire chorus of people is said to be silently listening to a very long conversation, and apparently, saying nothing.

Other dialogues, such as Euthyphro and Crito, involve only two characters who are not said to be overheard by anyone else. The characters are meant to be compared and contrasted. Socrates is more like Euthyphro (whom he mocks) than he thinks. Both are pious men whose knowledge of god's will comes from different sources - Euthyphro reads myths and takes them literally, while Socrates relies on divine voices in his head). Socrates is less compatible with his friend Crito than he thinks, and even says that people who are so morally at odds ought to despise each other. Sometimes characters pop in and out of a dialogue, as a slave and an aristocrat (Anytus) in the Meno.

Two of Plato's dialogues are better described as monologues. The often-read Apology is as brilliant a speech as the little-read Menexenus is tiresome. Gorgias, Protagoras and Lesser Hippias are structurally similar: each depicts Socrates being invited to converse with a well-known wise man who is visiting Athens. Lysis and Charmides are twin dialogues that picture Socrates chatting with boys who require attendants, slaves or older male relations who are appointed to walk them to and from their lessons at school. Phaedrus and the Symposium are a pair of dialogues linked by the theme of man-boy love.


Important analogies

The analogies in the dialogues are as interesting as the arguments, and just as important. Socrates' most enduring analogy is his comparison of the philosopher to the medical doctor. He says that the philosopher cures the mind ("psyche") of its worst affliction, ignorance, just as the medical doctor ("iatros") cures the body of disease. The ancient philosopher Epicurus took up the analogy, and claimed that any philosopher who did not reduce spiritual suffering was worthless. Socrates never pretended that his cures were pleasant, and never shied from saying that philosophical refutation, which chases false ideas from the brain, was a bitter medicine, and comparable to surgery or cautery. Diogenes of Sinope agreed. He reputedly said that a philosopher who did not hurt anybody's feeling was not doing his job. Even today, doctors of the mind are called "psych-iatrists".

Socrates compares the body to a prison house for the soul, and promoted the distinction that remains today, that a spiritual or wise person has a certain disgust for the body and its functions. In another celebrated analogy, Socrates likens the soul to a charioteer trying to manage a pair of lust ridden horses who ride by a love object, and start sweating and rearing uncontrollably. In still another comical analogy for the mind, Socrates says the brain is like a bird cage with pieces of knowledge fluttering about in it like doves and pigeons, so that a man might reach in for one fact and pull out the wrong one (Theaetetus).

Socrates frequently compares ideas with children, and says that ideas are the produce of the intercourse that men have with their beloved disciples (Symp. 209a–e). In a related analogy, Socrates compares himself to a midwife to men and boys who are "pregnant with thought" (Theaetetus). In the Protagoras, Socrates compares ideas to food, claiming that sophists are more dangerous to the mind than peddlers of spoiled food are to the body.

In several dialogues, Socrates compares intellectual debate to the physical contests so popular in the ancient Greek world. In the Gorgias he says that trainers cannot be blamed for the misbehaviors of their students. He says that you would not exile his trainer if a boxing student started punching out his friends and parents, and just so, a teacher of rhetoric cannot be blamed if his students use their skills for unjust purposes. In the Lesser Hippias, Socrates says that a person who lies deliberately is a better man than the man who lies unwittingly, just as a man who throws an athletic contest is better than the man who loses from lack of skill.


Recurrent themes

Much on Plato's mind is the father-son relationship, and the "question" of whether a father's interest in his sons has much to do with how well his sons turn out. A boy in ancient Athens was socially located by his family identity, and Plato often refers to his characters in terms of their paternal and fraternal relationships. Socrates is not a family man, and sees himself as the son of his mother, who was apparently a midwife. A divine fatalist, Socrates mocks men who spent exhorbitant fees on tutors and trainers for their sons, and repeatedly ventures the idea that good character is a gift from god. Crito reminds Socrates that orphans are at the mercy of chance, but Socrates is unconcerned. In the Theaetetus, he is found recruiting as a disciple a young man whose inheritance has been squandered. Socrates twice compares the relationship of the older man and his boy lover to the father-son relationship (Lysis 213a, Republic 3.403b), and in the Phaedo, Socrates' disciples, towards whom he displays more concern than his biological sons, say they will feel "fatherless" when he is gone. Many dialogues, like these, suggest that man-boy love (which is "spiritual") is a wise man's substitute for father-son biology (which is "bodily").

In several dialogues, Socrates floats the idea that Knowledge is a matter of recollection, and not of learning, observation, or study. He maintains this view somewhat at his own expense, because in many dialogues, Socrates complains of his forgetfulness. Socrates is often found arguing that knowledge is not empirical, and that it comes from divine insight. He is quite consistent in believing in the immortality of the soul, and several dialogues end with long speeches imagining the afterlife. More than one dialogue contrasts knowledge and opinion, perception and reality, nature and custom, and body and soul.

Several dialogues tackle questions about art: Socrates says that poetry is inspired by the muses, and is not rational. He speaks approvingly of this, and other forms of divine madness (drunkeness, eroticism, and dreaming) in the Phaedrus (265a–c), and yet in the Republic wants to outlaw Homer's great poetry, and laughter as well. In Ion, Socrates gives no hint of the disapproval of Homer that he expresses in the Republic. The dialogue Ion suggests that Homer's Iliad functioned in the ancient Greek world as the bible does today in the modern Christian world: as divinely inspired literature that can provide moral guidance, if only it can be properly interpreted.

On politics and art, religion and science, justice and medicine, virtue and vice, crime and punishment, pleasure and pain, rhetoric and rhapsody, human nature and sexuality, love and wisdom, Socrates and his company of disputants had something to say. Plato's insights are as rich as they are timeless, and yet not always easy to discern.


Socrates and the female

In two dialogues, the Menexenus and the Symposium, Socrates claims to have been tutored by a woman. In the Menexenus, Socrates says that he was a student of Aspasia, the mistress of Pericles, who taught him the art of rhetoric, and that the earth is the "true mother" of men. Women who give birth, she taught him, only imitate the earth, in whose bosom dead soldiers comfortably rest. The Menexenus is thought to mock the Athenian custom of giving a funeral oration for soldiers who had died in battle. Aspasia's speech pretends that the land of Athens gives life to its citizens/soldiers/sons, and that they "belong" to the land rather than to their human parents.

In the Symposium, Socrates tells a company of his friends that he learned everything he knows about love from the sorceress Diotima. Diotima taught him that ideas, which are the offspring of the intellectual intercourse between men and boys, are superior to the offspring of the bodies of women. Socrates says that he learned that men who are sexually attracted to women are misguided, searching for immortality through children. Ideas, she told him, are more likely to make a man famous.

In the Apology Socrates seems to subscribe to standard sexist stereotypes when he tells the jury that he will not weep and wail before the jury and beg for mercy because men who use such tactics for acquittal are "no better than women". In the Republic, Socrates does a complete flip flop, and appears to be not just liberal, but a radical feminist. He argues that gender is irrelevant to aptitude for the professions and declares that women ought to be educated along with the men, and in particular, be trained in combat. Socrates says that in his ideal world, women will perform their military exercises naked alongside the men. When his partner in conversation objects that foreigners will laugh, Socrates says that it is no matter, because the women will be "clad in virtue."

Socrates also abolishes the nuclear family in his design of a more perfect city than Athens. He says that women will be held in common, and be bred like hounds. The bravest warriors will have maximum access to women. Besides rewarding battle courage, the system will produce a better class of warriors in time. This suggestion has a parallel in Aristophanes' play, "Women at the Assembly", where women themselves rewrite the laws of Athens and abolish the private household.



Detail of The School of Athens by Raffaello Sanzio, 1509, showing Plato (pointing upwards, as if to the Form of the Good) and Aristotle (holding his hand palm down to Earth, favouring material evidence).
Detail of The School of Athens by Raffaello Sanzio, 1509, showing Plato (pointing upwards, as if to the Form of the Good) and Aristotle (holding his hand palm down to Earth, favouring material evidence).

"Platonism" is a term coined by scholars to refer to the intellectual consequences of denying, as Socrates often does, the reality of the material world. In several dialogues, most notably the Republic, Socrates inverts the common man's intuition about what is knowable and what is real. While most people take the objects of their senses to be real if anything is, Socrates is contemptuous of people who think that something has to be graspable in the hands to be real. In the Theaetetus, he says such people are "eu a-mousoi", an expression that means literally, "happily without the muses" (Theaetetus 156a). In other words, such people live without the divine inspiration that gives him, and people like him, access to higher insights about reality.

Socrates' idea that reality is unavailable to those who use their senses is what puts him at odds with the common man, and with common sense. Socrates says that he who sees with his eyes is blind, and this idea is most famously captured in his allegory of the cave, and more explicitly in his description of the divided line. The allegory of the cave (begins Republic 7.514a) is a paradoxical analogy wherein Socrates argues that the invisible world is the most intelligible ("noeton") and that the visible world ("(h)oraton") is the least knowable, and the most obscure. (This is exactly the opposite of what Socrates says to Euthyphro in the soothsayer's namesake dialogue. There, Socrates tells Euthyphro that people can agree on matters of logic and science, and are divided on moral matters, which are not so easily verifiable.)

Socrates says in the Republic that people who take sun-lit world of the senses to be good and real are living pitifully in a den of evil and ignorance. Socrates admits that few climb out of the den, or cave of ignorance, and those who do not only have a terrible struggle to attain the heights, but when they go back down for a visit or to help other people up, they find themselves objects of scorn and ridicule.

According to Socrates, physical objects and physical events are "shadows" of their ideal or perfect forms, and exist only to the extent that they instantiate the perfect versions of themselves. Just as shadows are temporary, inconsequential epiphenomena produced by physical objects, physical objects are themselves fleeting phenomena caused by more substantial causes, the ideals of which they are mere instances. For example, Socrates thinks that perfect justice exists (although it is not clear where) and his own trial would be a cheap copy of it.

Socrates' allegory of the cave (often said by scholars to represent Plato's own epistemology and metaphysics) is intimately connected to his political ideology (often said to also be Plato's own), that only people who have climbed out of the cave and cast their eyes on a vision of goodness are fit to rule. Socrates claims that the enlightened men of society must be forced from their divine contemplations and compelled to run the city according to their lofty insights. Thus is born the idea of the "philosopher-king", the wise person who accepts the power thrust upon him by the people who are wise enough to choose a good master. This is the main thesis of Plato's Republic, that the most wisdom the masses can muster is the wise choice of a ruler.

Labelled Plato's "metaphysics" because Aristotle's musings about divine reality came after ("meta") his lecture notes on his treatise on nature ("physics"), Socrates division of reality into the warring and irreconciliable domains of the material and the spiritual has been of incalculable influence in the history of Western philosophy and religion. The Apostle Paul, for example, claims that people who do not believe in the divinity and saving power of Jesus, are hopeless slaves to their bodies, to the material world, and to the finality of death.


Theory of Forms

Plato's Theory of Forms indicates that the sensory world that is the reality, which we as human beings experience, is only a shadow of a higher realm. In this higher realm, Plato assures us that there exist the Forms that embody the true nature of the pale shadows. What we know as sweet is only an afterimage of the Form of Sweetness. The luminous brightness of the sun is only a corporeal display of the Form of Brightness.

The Forms should be understood as a unity amidst disparate things. The disparate things are the things of the sense world, the forms are our intellectual apprehension of the true meaning of those things; and even the lifeblood of the empirical things themselves. The Forms are static, perfect and unchanging: necessary characteristics if they are going to be used to makes sense of the empirical world. Following this logic, then, Plato infers a unity to the forms themselves that could be considered the Ultimate Form, or the Form of Form. This is one quality which all Forms share. Later Christian thinkers influenced by Neo-Platonists would identify this Ultimate Form with God; though certainly famous pagan Neo-Platonists such as Plotinus would do the same.



Many have interpreted Plato as stating that knowledge is justified true belief, an influential view which informed future developments in modern analytic epistemology. This interpretation is based on a reading of the Theaetetus wherein Plato argues that belief is to be distinguished from knowledge on account of justification. Many years later, Edmund Gettier famously demonstrated the problems of the justified true belief account of knowledge. This interpretation, however, imports modern analytic and empiricist categories onto Plato himself and is better read on its own terms than as Plato's view.

Really, In the Sophist, Statesman, Republic, and the Parmenides Plato himself associates knowledge with the apprehension of unchanging Forms and their relationships to one another (which he calls "expertise" in Dialectic). More explicitly, Plato himself argues in the Timaeus that knowledge is always proportionate to the realm from which it is gained. In other words, if one derives their account of something experientially, because the world of sense is in flux, the views therein attained will be mere opinions. And opinions are characterized by a lack of necessity and stability. On the other hand, if one derives their account of something by way of the non-sensible forms, because these forms are unchanging, so too is the account derived from them. It is only in this sense that Plato uses the term "knowledge."


The state

Plato's philosophical views had many societal implications, especially on the idea of an ideal state or government. There is some discrepancy between his early and later views. Some of the most famous doctrines are contained in the Republic during his middle period, as well as in the Laws and the Statesman. However, because Plato wrote dialogues, it is assumed that Socrates is often speaking for Plato. This assumption may not be true in all cases.

Plato, through the words of Socrates, asserts that societies have a tripartite class structure corresponding to the appetite/spirit/reason structure of the individual soul.

According to this model, the principles of Athenian democracy (as it existed in his day) are rejected as only a few are fit to rule. Instead of rhetoric and persuasion, Plato says reason and wisdom should govern. This does not equate to tyranny, despotism, or oligarchy, however. As Plato puts it:

"Until philosophers rule as kings or those who are now called kings and leading men genuinely and adequately philosophise, that is, until political power and philosophy entirely coincide, while the many natures who at present pursue either one exclusively are forcibly prevented from doing so, cities will have no rest from evils,... nor, I think, will the human race." (Republic 473c-d)

Plato describes these "philosopher kings" as "those who love the sight of truth" (Republic 475c) and supports the idea with the analogy of a captain and his ship or a doctor and his medicine. Sailing and health are not things that everyone is qualified to practice by nature. A large part of the Republic then addresses how the educational system should be set up to produce these philosopher kings.

However, it must be taken into account that the ideal city outlined in the Republic is qualified by Socrates as the ideal luxurious city, examined to determine how it is that injustice and justice grow in a city (Republic 372e). According to Socrates, the "true" and "healthy" city is instead the one first outlined in book II of the Republic, 369c–372d, containing farmers, craftsmen, merchants, and wage-earners, but lacking the guardian class of philosopher-kings as well as delicacies such as "perfumed oils, incense, prostitutes, and pastries", in addition to paintings, gold, ivory, couches, a multitude of occupations such as poets and hunters, and war.

In addition, the ideal city is used as an image to illuminate the state of one's soul, or the will, reason, and desires combined in the human body. Socrates is attempting to make an image of a rightly ordered human, and then later goes on to describe the different kinds of humans that can be observed, from tyrants to lovers of money in various kinds of cities. The ideal city is not promoted, but only used to magnify the different kinds of individual humans and the state of their soul. However, the philosopher king image was used by many after Plato to justify their personal political beliefs. The philosophic soul according to Socrates has reason, will, and desires united in virtuous harmony. A philosopher has the moderate love for wisdom and the courage to act according to wisdom. Wisdom is knowledge about the Good or the right relations between all that exists.

Wherein it concerns states and rulers, Plato has made interesting arguments. For instance he asks which is better - a bad democracy or a country reigned by a tyrant. He argues that it is better to be ruled by a bad tyrant (since then there is only one person committing bad deeds) than be a bad democracy (since here all the people are now responsible for such actions.)

According to Socrates a state, which is made up of different kinds of souls, will overall decline from an aristocracy to a timocracy, then to an oligarchy, then to a democracy, and finally to tyranny. Perhaps Plato is trying to warn us of the various kinds of immoderate souls that can rule over a state, and what kind of wise souls are best to advise and give counsel to the rulers that are often lovers of power, money, fame, and popularity.


Platonic scholarship

"The safest general characterisation of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato." (Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality, 1929).
"The safest general characterisation of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato." (Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality, 1929).

Plato's thought is often compared with that of his most famous student, Aristotle, whose reputation during the Western Middle Ages so completely eclipsed that of Plato that the Scholastic philosophers referred to Aristotle as "the Philosopher". However, in the Byzantine Empire, the study of Plato continued.

The Medieval scholastic philosophers did not have access to the works of Plato, nor the knowledge of Greek needed to read them. Plato's original writings were essentially lost to Western civilization until they were brought from Constantinople in the century before its fall, by George Gemistos Plethon. Medieval scholars knew of Plato only through translations into Latin from the translations into Arabic by Persian and Arab scholars. These scholars not only translated the texts of the ancients, but expanded them by writing extensive commentaries and interpretations on Plato's and Aristotle's works (see Al-Farabi, Avicenna, Averroes).

Only in the Renaissance, with the general resurgence of interest in classical civilization, did knowledge of Plato's philosophy become widespread again in the West. Many of the greatest early modern scientists and artists who broke with Scholasticism and fostered the flowering of the Renaissance, with the support of the Plato-inspired Lorenzo de Medici, saw Plato's philosophy as the basis for progress in the arts and sciences. By the 19th century, Plato's reputation was restored, and at least on par with Aristotle's.

Notable Western philosophers have continued to draw upon Plato's work since that time. Plato's influence has been especially strong in mathematics and the sciences. It inspired the greatest advances in logic since Aristotle, due to Gottlob Frege and his followers Kurt Gödel, Alonzo Church, and Alfred Tarski, the last of whom summarised his approach by reversing Aristotle's famous declaration of sedition from the Nicomachean Ethics (1096a15: Amicus Plato sed magis amica veritas): Inimicus Plato sed magis amica veritas ("Plato is a friend, but truth is yet a greater friend"). Albert Einstein drew on Plato's understanding of an immutable reality that underlies the flux of appearances for his objections to the probabilistic picture of the physical universe propounded by Niels Bohr in his interpretation of quantum mechanics. Conversely, thinkers that diverged from ontological models and moral ideals in their own philosophy, have tended to disparage Platonism from more or less informed perspectives. Thus Friedrich Nietzsche attacked Plato's moral and political theories, Martin Heidegger argued against Plato's alleged obfuscation of Being, and Karl Popper argued in The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945) that Plato's alleged proposal for a government system in the Republic was prototypically totalitarian. Leo Strauss is considered by some as the prime thinker involved in the recovery of Platonic thought in its more political, and less metaphysical, form. Deeply influenced by Nietzsche and Heidegger, Strauss nonetheless rejects their condemnation of Plato and looks to the dialogues for a solution to what all three thinkers acknowledge as 'the crisis of the West.'



Plato's writings (most of them dialogues) have been published in several fashions; this has led to several conventions regarding the naming and referencing of Plato's texts.

Those works ascribed to Plato that have a separate Wikipedia article can be found in Category:Dialogues of Plato



One tradition regarding the arrangement of Plato's texts is according to tetralogies. This scheme is ascribed by Diogenes Laertius to an ancient scholar and court astrologer to Tiberius named Thrasyllus.

In the list below, works by Plato are marked (1) if there is no consensus among scholars as to whether Plato is the author, and (2) if scholars generally agree that Plato is not the author of the work. Unmarked works are assumed to have been written by Plato.




Works not in Thrasyllus' tetralogies

The remaining works were transmitted under Plato's name, most of them already considered spurious in antiquity, and so were not included by Thrasyllus in his tetralogical arrangement. These works are labelled as Notheuomenoi ("spurious") or Apocrypha.


Stephanus pagination

The usual system for making unique references to sections of the text by Plato derives from a 16th century edition of Plato's works by Henricus Stephanus. An overview of Plato's writings according to this system can be found in the Stephanus pagination article.



The exact order in which Plato's dialogues were written is not known, nor is the extent to which some might have been later revised and rewritten. However, according to modern linguistic theory there is enough information internal to the dialogues to form a rough chronology. The dialogues are normally grouped into three fairly distinct periods, with a few of them considered transitional works, and some just difficult to place. Friedrich Schleiermacher, whose translation of Plato into German still stands uncontested in Germany, is very likely the first to have divided Plato's dialogues into three distinct periods. However, his ordering is quite different from the modern one, and rather than being based upon philology, he claims to have traced Plato's philosophical development. Schleiermacher divides the dialogues thus:

  1. Foundation: Phaedrus, Lysis, Protagoras, Laches, Charmides, Euthyphro, Parmenides;
  2. Transition: Gorgias, Theaetetus, Meno, Euthydemus, Cratylus, Sophist, Statesman, Symposium, Phaedo, Philebus
  3. Culmination: The Republic, (Critias, Timaeus, The Laws)

The final three dialogues above, in parentheses, were not translated by Schleiermacher, though ten other dialogues (including Ion, etc.) were translated and deemed spurious. Finally, Schleiermacher maintained that the Apology and probably the Crito were Plato's memory of Socrates' actual words.

Lewis Campbell was the first to make exhaustive use of stylometry to prove objectively that the Critias, Timaeus, Laws, Philebus, Sophist, and Statesman were all clustered together as a group, while the Parmenides, Phaedrus, Republic, and Theaetetus belong to a separate group, which must be earlier (given Aristotle's statement in his Politics[11] that the Laws was written after the Republic; cf. Diogenes Laertius Lives 3.37).

Many of the positions in the ordering are still highly disputed. The generally agreed upon modern ordering is as follows.


Early dialogues

Socrates figures in all of these, and they are considered the most faithful representations of the historical Socrates; hence they are also called the Socratic dialogues. Most of them consist of Socrates discussing a subject, often an ethical one (friendship, piety) with a friend or with someone presumed to be an expert on it. Through a series of questions he will show that apparently they don't understand it at all. It is left to the reader to figure out if "he" really understands "it". This makes these dialogues "indirect" teachings. This period also includes several pieces surrounding the trial and execution of Socrates.

The following are variously considered transitional or middle period dialogues:


Middle dialogues

Late in the early dialogues Plato's Socrates actually begins supplying answers to some of the questions he asks, or putting forth positive doctrines. This is generally seen as the first appearance of Plato's own views. The first of these, that goodness is wisdom and that no one does evil willingly, was perhaps Socrates' own view. What becomes most prominent in the middle dialogues is the idea that knowledge comes of grasping unchanging forms or essences, paired with the attempts to investigate such essences. The immortality of the soul, and specific doctrines about justice, truth, and beauty, begin appearing here. The Symposium and the Republic are considered the centrepieces of Plato's middle period.


Late dialogues

The Parmenides presents a series of criticisms of the theory of Forms which are widely taken to indicate Plato's abandonment of the doctrine. Some recent publications (e.g., Meinwald (1991)) have challenged this characterisation. In most of the remaining dialogues the theory is either absent or at least appears under a different guise in discussions about kinds or classes of things (the Timaeus may be an important, and hence controversially placed, exception). Socrates is either absent or a minor figure in the discussion. An apparently new method for doing dialectic known as "collection and division" is also featured, most notably in the Sophist and Statesman, explicitly for the first time in the Phaedrus, and possibly in the Philebus. A basic description of collection and division would go as follows: interlocutors attempt to discern the similarities and differences among things in order to get clear idea about what they in fact are. One understanding, suggested in some passages of the Sophist, is that this is what philosophy is always in the business of doing, and is doing even in the early dialogues.

The late dialogues are also an important place to look for Plato's mature thought on most of the issues dealt with in the earlier dialogues. There is much work still to be done by scholars on the working out of what these views are. The later works are agreed to be difficult and challenging pieces of philosophy. On the whole they are more sober and logical than earlier works, but may hold out the promise of steps towards a solution to problems which were systematically laid out in prior works.


Loeb Classical Library

James Loeb provided a very popular edition of Plato's works, still in print in the 21st century: see Loeb Classical Library#Plato for how Plato's works were named in Loeb's publications.

Academic Impact
Notable teachers Notable students
Socrates Aristotle

See also



a. ^  The grammarian Apollodorus argues in his Chronicles that Plato was born in the first year of the eighty-eighth Olympiad (427 BC), on the seventh day of the month Thargelion; according to this tradition the god Apollo was born this day.[12] According to another biographer of him, Neanthes, Plato was eighty-four of age at his death.[12] If we accept Neanthes' version, Plato was younger than Isocrates by six years, and therefore he was born in the second year of the 87th Olympiad, the year Pericles died (429 BC).[13] According to Suda, Plato was born in Aegina in the 88th Olympiad amid the preliminaries of the Peloponnesian war, and he lived 82 years.[14] Sir Thomas Browne also believes that Plato was born in the 88th Olympiad.[15] Renaissance Platonists celebrated Plato's birth on November 7.[16] Wilamowitz-Moellendorff estimates that Plato was born when Diotimos was archon eponymous, namely between July 29428 BC and July 24427 BC.[17] Greek philologist Ioannis Kalitsounakis believes that the philosopher was born on May 26 or 27 427 BC, while Jonathan Barnes regards 428 BC as year of Plato's birth[18] For her part, Debra Nails asserts that the philosopher was born in 424/423 BC.[16]

b. ^  Diogenes Laertius mentions that Plato "was born, according to some writers, in Aegina in the house of Phidiades the son of Thales". Diogenes mentions as one of his sources the Universal History of Favorinus. According to Favorinus, Ariston, Plato's family, and his family were sent by Athens to settle as cleruchs (colonists retaining their Athenian citizenship), on the island of Aegina, from which they were expelled by the Spartans after Plato's birth there.[19] Nails points out, however, that there is no record of any Spartan expulsion of Athenians from Aegina between 431-411 BC.[20] On the other hand, at the Peace of Nicias, Aegina was silently left under Athens' control, and it was not until the summer of 411 that the Spartans overran the island.[21] Therefore, Nails concludes that "perhaps Ariston was a cleruch, perhaps he want to Aegina in 431, and perhaps Plato was born on Aegina, but none of this enables a precise dating of Ariston's death (or Plato's birth).[20] Aegina is regarded as Plato's place of birth by Suda as well.[14]



  1. Diogenes Laertius, Life of Plato, III
    * U. von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, Plato, 46
  2. D. Nails, "Ariston", 53
  3. Diogenes Laertius, Life of Plato, I
  4. 4.0 4.1 A.E. Taylor, Plato, xiv
    * U. von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, Plato, 47
  5. Plato, Republic, 2.368a
    * U. von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, Plato, 47
  6. Xenophon, Memorabilia, 3.6.1
  7. D. Nails, "Ariston", 53
    * A.E. Taylor, Plato, xiv
  8. D. Nails, "Perictione", 53
  9. Plato, Gorgias, 481d and 513b
    Aristophanes, Wasps, 97
  10. Plato, Parmenides, 126c
  11. 1264b24-27
  12. 12.0 12.1 Diogenes Laertius, Life of Plato, II
  13. F.W. Nietzsche, Werke, 32
  14. 14.0 14.1 "Plato". Suda.
  15. T. Browne, Pseudodoxia Epidemica, XII
  16. 16.0 16.1 D. Nails, The Life of Plato of Athens, 1
  17. U. von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, Plato, 46
  18. * "Demosthenes". Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2002).
    * "Plato". Encyclopaedic Dictionary The Helios Volume V (in Greek). (1952).
  19. Diogenes Laertius, Life of Plato, III
  20. 20.0 20.1 D. Nails, "Ariston", 54
  21. Thucydides, 5.18
    * Thucydides, 8.92



Primary sources


Secondary sources


Further reading


External links

Aristocles, Plátōn, Πλάτων (Greek)
Greek philosopher, a student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy
c. 427 BC
c. 347 BC


Retrieved from "http://localhost../../art/h/k.html"

This text comes from Wikipedia the free encyclopedia. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. For a complete list of contributors for a given article, visit the corresponding entry on the English Wikipedia and click on "History" . For more details about the license of an image, visit the corresponding entry on the English Wikipedia and click on the picture.