Plato - (ca. 427-347 B.C.)
|Main interests:||Metaphysics, Epistemology, Ethics, Aesthetics, Politics, Education, Philosophy of mathematics, Metaphilosophy|
|Notable ideas:||Platonic realism|
|Influences:||Socrates, Archytas, Democritus, Parmenides, Pythagoras|
|Influenced:||Almost all Western philosophers|
Plato (Greek: Πλάτων, Plátōn, "wide, broad-shouldered") (c. 427–c. 347 BCE), whose real name is believed to have been Aristocles, was an immensely influential ancient Greek philosopher, a student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens where Aristotle studied.
Plato lectured extensively at the Academy, and wrote on many philosophical issues, dealing especially in politics, ethics, metaphysics, and epistemology. The most important writings of Plato are his dialogues, although some letters have come down to us under his name. It is believed that all of Plato's authentic dialogues survive. However, some dialogues ascribed to Plato by the Greeks are now considered by the consensus of scholars to be either suspect (e.g., First Alcibiades, Clitophon) or probably spurious (such as Demodocus, or the Second Alcibiades). The letters are all considered to probably be spurious, with the possible exception of the Seventh Letter.
Socrates is often a character in Plato's dialogues. How much of the content and argument of any given dialogue is Socrates' point of view, and how much of it is Plato's, is heavily disputed, since Socrates himself did not write anything; this is often referred to as the "Socratic problem". However, Plato was doubtless strongly influenced by Socrates' teachings, so many of the ideas presented, at least in his early works, were probably borrowings or adaptations.
|Articles on Neoplatonism|
|Theory of forms|
|Platonic doctrine of recollection|
|Discussions of Plato's works|
|Dialogues of Plato|
|Plato's metaphor of the sun|
|Analogy of the divided line|
|Allegory of the cave|
Plato was born in Athens in May or December in 428 or 427 BC (like all the other early western philosophers, his birthdate is not exactly known). He was raised in a moderately well-to-do aristocratic family. His father was named Ariston, and his mother Perictione. His family claimed descent from the ancient Athenian kings, and he was related – though there is disagreement as to exactly how – to the prominent politician Critias. According to a late Hellenistic account by Diogenes Laertius, Plato's given name was Aristocles, whereas 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 (platutęs) of his eloquence, or else because he was very wide (platus) across the forehead. 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.
Plato became a pupil of Socrates in his youth, and – at least according to his own account – he attended his master's trial and execution. He was deeply affected by the city's treatment of Socrates, and much of his early work records his memories of his teacher. It is suggested that much of his ethical writing is in pursuit of a society where similar injustices could not occur. During the twelve years following the death of Socrates, he traveled extensively in Italy, Sicily, Egypt, and Cyrene in a quest for knowledge.
After his return 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 Academe. 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 was also deeply influenced by a number of prior philosophers, including: the Pythagoreans, whose notions of numerical harmony have clear echoes in Plato's notion of the Forms; Anaxagoras, who taught Socrates and who held that the mind, or reason, pervades everything; and Parmenides, who argued for the unity of all things and may have influenced Plato's concept of the soul.
Unlike Socrates, Plato wrote down philosophical thoughts, leaving behind a considerable number of manuscripts.
In Plato's writings are debates concerning the best possible form of government, featuring adherents of aristocracy, democracy, monarchy, as well as other issues. A central theme is the conflict between nature and convention, concerning the role of heredity and the environment on human intelligence and personality long before the modern "nature versus nurture" debate began in the time of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, with its modern continuation in such controversial works as The Mismeasure of Man and The Bell Curve.
Another theme in Plato's writing is the distinction between knowledge and true belief. From this, problems, ideas, and arguments arose which continue to be debated by modern philosophers. Unlike most modern writers, Plato argued that the main difference between knowledge and true belief was the nature of their objects: knowledge was of eternal truths (later, the Forms), while true belief was of ephemeral, contingent truths.
Plato also had a position on the art of writing as opposed to oral communication. This is evidenced in his dialogue Phaedrus and his Seventh Epistle. He said that oral communication is superior to the written word, especially in the accuracy of the oral word over the written word and in his Seventh Epistle that nothing of importance should be written down but transmitted orally.
Plato wrote mainly in the form known as dialogue. In certain dialogues, postulated by some scholars as being earlier than others, several characters discuss a topic by asking questions of one another. Socrates figures prominently, and a lively, more disorganised form of elenchos/dialectic is present; these are called the Socratic Dialogues.
Some scholars believe that the nature of the dialogues changed a great deal over the course of Plato's life. According to this theory, works believed to date from earlier in Plato's life are more closely based on Socrates' thought, whereas later writing increasingly breaks away from the views of his former teacher. This theory holds that in so-called middle dialogues, Socrates becomes a mouthpiece for Plato's own philosophy, and the question-and-answer style is more pro forma: the main figure represents Plato and the minor characters have little to say except "yes", "of course" and "very true", or "by Zeus, yes". The dialogues designated by this theory as late read more like treatises, and Socrates is often absent or quiet. It is assumed by believers of this theory that while some of the early dialogues could be based on Socrates' actual conversations, the later dialogues were written entirely by Plato. The question of which, if any, of the dialogues are truly Socratic is known as the Socratic problem.
The ostensible mise en scčne of a dialogue distances both Plato and a given reader from the philosophy being discussed; one can choose between at least two options of perception: either to participate in the dialogues, in the ideas being discussed, or choose to see the content as expressive of the personalities contained within the work.
The dialogue format allows Plato to put unpopular opinions in the mouth of unsympathetic characters, such as Thrasymachus in The Republic. On one level, it also gives readers an opportunity to observe and compare the conversations that different youths and men have with Socrates.
Platonism has traditionally been interpreted as a form of metaphysical dualism , sometimes referred to as Platonic realism, and is regarded as one of the earlier representatives of metaphysical objective idealism. According to this reading, Plato's metaphysics divides the world into two distinct aspects: the intelligible world of "forms", and the perceptual world we see around us. The perceptual world consists of imperfect copies of the intelligible forms or ideas. These forms are unchangeable and perfect, and are only comprehensible by the use of the intellect or understanding, that is, a capacity of the mind that does not include sense-perception or imagination. This division can also be found in Zoroastrian philosophy, in which the dichotomy is referenced as the Minu (intelligence) and Giti (perceptual) worlds. The Zoroastrian ideal city, Shahrivar, also exhibits certain similarities with Plato's Republic. The existence and direction of influence here is uncertain; while Zoroaster lived well before Plato, few of the earliest writings of Zoroastrianism survive unaltered.
In the Republic Books VI and VII, Plato uses a number of metaphors to explain his metaphysical views: the metaphor of the sun, the well-known allegory of the cave, and most explicitly, the divided line.
Taken together, these metaphors convey a complex, and, in places,difficult theory: there is something called The Form of the Good (often interpreted as Plato's god), which is the ultimate object of knowledge and which, as it were, sheds light on all the other forms (i.e., universals: abstract kinds and attributes), and from which all other forms "emanate". The Form of the Good does this in somewhat the same way as the sun sheds light on, or makes visible and "generates" things, in the perceptual world.
In the perceptual world, the particular objects we see around us bear only a dim resemblance to the more ultimately real forms of Plato's intelligible world; it is as if we are seeing shadows of cut-out shapes on the walls of a cave, which are mere representations of the reality outside the cave, illuminated by the sun.
We can imagine everything in the universe represented on a line of increasing reality; it is divided once unevenly, and then once again in each of the resulting parts in the same ratio as the first division (Regardless of the ratio, the two midddle sections of the line are equal). The first division represents that between the intelligible and the perceptual worlds. This is followed by a corresponding division in each of these worlds: the segment representing the perceptual world is divided into segments representing "real things" on the one hand, and shadows, reflections, and representations of those things on the other. Similarly, the segment representing the intelligible world is divided into segments representing first principles and most general forms, on the one hand, and more derivative, "reflected" forms, on the other. (See the divided line of Plato)
Plato's metaphysics, and particularly its dualism between the intelligible and the perceptual, would inspire later Neoplatonist thinkers, such as Plotinus and Gnostics, and many other metaphysical realists. Although Platonist philosophers like Plotinus rejected Gnosticism (see Plotinus' Enneads). One reason being the Gnostic vilification of nature and Plato's demiurge from Timaeus. Plato also influenced Saint Justin Martyr. For more on Platonic realism in general, see Platonic realism and the Forms.
Although this interpretation of Plato's writings (particularly the Republic) has enjoyed immense popularity throughout the long history of Western philosophy, it is also possible to interpret his suggestions more conservatively, favoring a more epistemological than metaphysical reading of such famous metaphors as the Cave and the Divided Line. There are obvious parallels between the Cave allegory and the life of Plato's teacher Socrates (who was killed in his attempt to "open the eyes" of the Athenians). This example reveals the dramatic complexity that often lies under the surface of Plato's writing (remember that in the Republic, it is Socrates who relates the story).
Plato also had some influential opinions on the nature of knowledge and learning which he propounded in the Meno, which began with the question of whether virtue can be taught, and proceeded to expound the concepts of recollection, learning as the discovery of pre-existing knowledge, and right opinion, opinions which are correct but have no clear justification.
Plato stated that knowledge is essentially justified true belief, an influential belief which informed future developments in epistemology. In the Theaetetus Plato argued that belief is to be distinguished from knowledge on account of justification. In the Many years later, Edmund Gettier famously demonstrated the problems of the justified true belief account of knowledge.In the Sophist and the Statesman Plato associates knowledge with the knowledge of the kinds and the Forms as well as of their ability of blending, which he calls expertise in Dialectic.
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. 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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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 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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
|Notable teachers||Notable students|