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Whether they read much philosophy or not, almost everyone has heard of Plato. Socrates taught Plato, and Plato taught Aristotle. Together those three Greeks laid the foundations of Western philosophy. Most of what the modern world knows about Socrates comes from the writings of Plato.
Plato lived from 427/428 BC to 347/348 BC. His wrestling coach gave him the nickname Plato, at which point Plato stopped using his birth name, Aristocles.
In addition to philosophy, Plato performed works as a writer, logician, rhetorician, and mathematician. Plato also founded the first institution of higher learning in the Western world, which he named the Academy in Athens.
The Socratic dialogues contain most of the surviving philosophy of Plato. Scholars do not know how much of the Socratic dialogues represent actual events and how much represent Plato's personal philosophy. Many people believe that Plato expressed his own beliefs through the dialogues, and used Socrates as a character.
In his books, Plato never participates in any of the dialogues, and never claims to have observed them firsthand except in the Apology. This contradicts the conventional view of Plato as a disciple of Socrates. To this day, no one has discovered why Plato distanced himself from some of his greatest dialogues.
Regardless, we know much about Plato's philosophy.
Plato disbelieved in the reality of the material world. Instead, he saw the material world as a shadow of the real world. People normally refer to that belief as the Theory of Forms. To compose his solution to the problem of universals, Plato spoke of forms. In essence, Plato defined forms as abstract representations of the various properties and types that any given object may have.
People refer to Plato's philosophy concerning knowledge as 'Platonic epistemology.' Plato believed in the innateness of knowledge, so he viewed learning as the development of ideas buried deep within the soul. argued that knowledge is innate, so that learning is the development of preexisting ideas buried deep in the soul. Plato said that every soul existed prior to birth with "The Form of the Good." This meant that each soul had a complete knowledge of everything before birth. In other words, Plato viewed learning something as recalling it.
Plato strongly distinguished opinion from knowledge. He viewed the former as uncertain and viewed the latter as certain. He argued that opinions comes from the variable world of sensation, whereas knowledge comes from the world of eternal essences or forms. Plato illustrated those ideas in his Republic, using the allegory of the cave, the metaphor of the sun, and the divided line.
Plato's philosophy has numerous social and political implications. Namely, he often theorized about the ideal form of government.
Through the words of his Socrates, Plato claims that societies have a tripartite class structure. The workers make up the productive part of society and correspond to the appetite part of the soul. The warriors (or auxiliaries) make up the protective part of society and correspond to the spirit part of the soul. The rulers make up the governing part of society and correspond to the reason part of the soul.
Plato's above model threw out the principles of democracy in Athens (during his time), because Plato believe only a few people have what it takes to rule. Rather than persuasion and rhetoric, Plato argues that wisdom and reason should govern. Plato does not support despotism or tyranny, but rather supports "philosopher kings" who would lead men genuinely with the goal of creating the best society for the human race.
If you want to read Pluto's philosophy, you may want to consider the following books:
"Bodily exercise, when compulsory, does no harm to the body; but knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind."
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