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PLATO (PHILOSOPHY)

Plato (Greek: Πλάτων Plátōn) (c. 427 BC – c. 347 BC) was an immensely influential classical Greek philosopher, student of Socrates, teacher of Aristotle, writer, and founder of the Academy in Athens. In countries speaking Arabic, Turkish or Persian, he is called Eflatun.

Plato lectured extensively at the Academy but he also wrote on many philosophical issues. The most important writings of Plato are his dialogues; although a handful of epigrams also survive, and some letters have come down to us under his name. All the known dialogues of Plato survive; some of the dialogues which the Greeks ascribed to him are 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).

Socrates is often a character in the dialogues of Plato. It is usually disputed how much of the content and argument of any given dialogue is Socrates' point of view, and how much of it Plato's.

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









(Plato holds a copy of his Timaeus, and gestures upward to the aetherial realm of his eternal forms, School of Athens)



Biography

Plato was born in Athens, into a moderately well-to-do aristocratic family. His father was named Ariston and his mother Perictione. One of Plato's ancestors, Glaucon, was one of the best-known members of the Athenian nobility. Plato's own real name was "Aristocles" however his nickname, Plato, originated from wrestling circles. Since Plato means "broad," it probably refers either to his physical appearance or to his wrestling stance or style.

Plato became a pupil of Socrates in his youth, and — at least according to his personal account — he attended his master's trial, though not his execution. Unlike Socrates, Plato wrote down his philosophical views and left a considerable number of manuscripts (see below). 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.

Plato was also deeply influenced by the Pythagoreans, whose notions of numerical harmony have clear echoes in Plato's notion of the Forms (sometimes thus capitalized; see below); by Anaxagoras, who taught Socrates and who held that the mind or reason pervades everything; and by Parmenides, who argued the unity of all things and was perhaps influential in Plato's conception of the Soul.

Plato founded one of the earliest known organized schools in Western civilization when he was 40 years old 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 it was closed by the Roman Justinian I of Byzantium in AD 529. Many intellectuals were schooled here, the most prominent being Aristotle.

Work

Themes

In Plato's writings one finds debates concerning the best possible form of government, featuring adherents of aristocracy, democracy, monarchy, and others. A central theme is the one between nature and convention, concerning the role of heredity and environment in human intelligence and personality long before the modern "nature versus nurture" debate began in the time of Hobbes and Locke, with its modern continuation in such controversial works as The Mismeasure of Man and The Bell Curve. Another key distinction and theme in the Platonic corpus is that between knowledge and opinion, which foreshadow modern debates between Hume and Kant, and has been taken up by postmodernists and their opponents, more commonly as the distinction between the 'objective' and the 'subjective'. Even the story of the lost city or continent of Atlantis came to us as an illustrative story told by Plato in his Timaeus and Critias.

Form

Plato wrote mainly in the form of dialogues. In the early ones several characters discuss a topic by asking questions of one another. Socrates figures prominently and a lively, more disorganized form of elenchos/dialectic is perceived; these are called the Socratic Dialogues.

But the qualities of the dialogues changed a great deal over the course of Plato's life. It is generally agreed that Plato's earlier works are more closely based on Socrates' thoughts, whereas his later writing increasingly breaks away from the views of his former teacher. In the 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". The later dialogues read more like treatises, and Socrates is often absent or quiet. It is assumed that the later dialogues were written entirely by Plato, while some of the early dialogues could be transcripts of Socrates' own dialogues. The question which, if any, of the dialogues are truly socratic is called the Socratic problem.

The ostensible mise-en-scene 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 also allows Plato to put unpopular opinions in the mouth of unsympathetic characters, e.g. Thrasymachus in The Republic.

Plato's Metaphysics: Platonism, or realism

One of Plato's legacies, and perhaps his greatest, was his dualistic metaphysics, often called (in metaphysics) Platonism or (Exaggerated) Realism. Plato's metaphysics divides the world into two distinct aspects: the intelligible world of "forms" and the perceptual world we see around us. He saw the perceptual world, and the things in it, as 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 (i.e., a capacity of the mind that does not include sense-perception or imagination).This division can be found before Plato in Zoroastrian philosophy (6th century BC), which is called Minu (intelligence) and Giti (perceptual) worlds, as well as the concept of an ideal state which Zoroaster called Shahrivar (an ideal city).

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. (See Plato's metaphor of the sun.) 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. (See Plato's allegory of the cave.)

We can imagine everything in the universe represented on a line of increasing reality; it is divided once in the middle, and then once again in each of the resulting parts. The first division represents that between the intelligible and the perceptual worlds. Then there is 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 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.) The form of government derived from this philosophy turns out to be one of a rigidly fixed hierarchy of hereditary classes, in which the arts are mostly suppressed for the good of the state, the size of the city and its social classes is determined by mathematical formula, and eugenic measures are applied secretly by rigging the lotteries in which the right to reproduce is allocated. The tightness of connection of such government to the lofty and original philosophy in the book has been debated.

Plato's metaphysics, and particularly the dualism between the intelligible and the perceptual, would inspire later Neoplatonic thinkers (see Plotinus and Gnosticism) and other metaphysical realists. For more on Platonic realism in general, see Platonic realism and the Forms.

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 (see Platonic epistemology).





(Lunar Crater Plato)



A short history of Platonic scholarship

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 scholastic philosophers of the Middle Ages did not have access to the works of Plato - nor the Greek 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. What the mediaevals knew of Plato was 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 more 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 examine Plato's work since that time, diverging from traditional academic approaches with their own philosophy as a basis. Nietzsche attacked Plato's moral and political theories, Heidegger expounded on Plato's obfuscation of Being, and Karl Popper in The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945), argued that Plato's proposal for a government system in the dialogue The Republic was prototypically totalitarian. While many critics reject such readings on a variety of grounds, they remain widely discussed.

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Timeline of Plato (427 - 347 BC)


Not far from the Academy is the monument of Plato, to whom heaven foretold that he would be the prince of philosophers. The manner of the foretelling was this. On the night before Plato was to become his pupil Socrates in a dream saw a swan fly into his bosom. Now the swan is a bird with a reputation for music, because, they say, a musician of the name of Swan became king of the Ligyes on the other side of the Eridanus beyond the Celtic territory, and after his death by the will of Apollo he was changed into the bird. I am ready to believe that a musician became king of the Ligyes, but I cannot believe that a bird grew out of a man. - Pausanias



(427BC) Plato was probably born at Athens. His real name was Aristocles. His family was wealthy; his father, Ariston, traced his ancestry to one of the kings of Athens (Codrus), and his mother, Perictione, was a descendent of Solon. Adiemantus and Glaucon, characters in the Republic were his brothers; Potone was his sister (her son, Speusippus, succeeded Plato as director of the Academy). Charmides and Critias, his uncles, were also characters in dialogues; Plato’s half-brother Antiphon (from a later marriage of his mother) was in Parmenides.

"Plato" is a nickname meaning capacious, broad, abundance. There are several stories about how he acquired this nickname. One is that Ariston, the Argive wrestler, called him Plato because of his robust build. (Dionysius Laertius, 3.4). Another is that Plato refers to the breadth of his style; another to the shape of his forehead.

(?) Aristotle says that Plato was initially a follower of the Heraclitean philosopher Cratylus (Metaphysics, A, 6)

(407 BC)Plato’s initial reasons for associating with Socrates were undoubtedly political. He says that he once "cherished the hope &hellip of embracing a political career" (Letter VII). Like many young men who associated with Socrates and others (the Sophists), he was seeking a better preparation for a political career, which, because of his family, he could surely have.

Diogenes Laertius gives us this story (3.5): "It is stated that Socrates in a dream saw a swan on his knees, which all at once put forth plumage, and flew away after uttering a loud sweet note. (There is a version that the swan was flying towards him) And the next day Plato was introduced as a pupil, and thereupon he recognized in him the swan of his dreams."

(404-403) Eventually Plato became disgusted with politics. He says in one of his letters that he became associated with Athenian politics when the aristocrats seized power. Two of his cousins (uncles), Charmides and Critias, were involved in the coup. He had first hand experience of much of the duplicitous dealings. He says:

...thirty came into power as supreme rulers of the whole state. … young as I was, I cherished the belief that they would lead the city from an unjust life.… I saw in a short time that these men made the former government look in comparison like an age of gold. Among other things they sent an elderly man, Socrates, a friend of mine, who I should hardly be ashamed to say was the justest [sic] man of his time … against one of the citizens to fetch him forcibly to be executed. Socrates … refused … to become their partner in wicked deeds…. When I observed all this—and some other matters of similar importance—I withdrew in disgust from the abuse of those days. [After the thirty lost power] some of those in control brought against this associate of mine, Socrates … a most sacrilegious charge, which he least of all men deserved. They put him on trial for impiety and the people condemned and put to death the man who had refused to take part in the wicked arrest of one their friends. (Letter VII)



(399) Undoubtedly the final straw came when Socrates was put to death by the oligarchy. Eventually Plato came to believe that the only hope for politics was to found a school and create a new kind of political character.

(400) According to Hermodorus, Plato initially fled to Megara with other Socratic followers, guests of the philosopher Euclid (not the geometer who lived in Alexandria but a disciple of Socrates). Nothing is known for certain about Plato’s life for the twelve years from the death of Socrates to when he was 40. It is said he traveled extensively, perhaps to Egypt and Cyrene (to see Theodorus the mathematician). Some say that he visited Persia and Babylonia, where he was initiated into the Chaldean Mysteries. Others say that he went as far as India. He eventually went to Italy (Sicily) to see the Pythagoreans Philolaus and Eurytus, making friends as well with Archytas, a ruler in Sicily.

(388/6?) Plato’s trip to Sicily brought him to Syracuse, where he made friends with Dion, the brother-in-law and member of the court of Syracuse’s tyrant, Dionysius I. Dion was greatly enthused by philosophy, and his contact with Plato brought about a great change in his life. Plato seems to have hoped to set up a state led by philosophers, and attempted to train the tyrant, and later his son, Dionysius II, in philosophy. He seems rather to have been the dupe of these men.

(385) Plato founded the Academy in Athens upon his return from his first voyage to Sicily. He rented a gymnasium in a park dedicated to the hero Accademus, modeling his project on other schools he had known and visited. The Academy was a group of Plato’s pupils and fellow students who united themselves in a "museum" or friendly society devoted to the Muses, interested in letters and music. People might stay at the Academy for twenty years, even life, taking part in the common studies, religious exercises, and meals. Mathematics became, after philosophy, the study most pursued by the society.

(367) With Xenocrates, Plato makes a second trip to Syracuse, at the urging of Dion, to instruct Dionysius II in philosophy. Dionysius seems to have become attached to Plato and to philosophy, but due to his suspicions about Dion, he eventually expelled Dion on the grounds that he was plotting against him. Plato was forced by loyalty to support Dion and demand his recall, which only made things worse. Dionysius never let Dion return and wouldn't let Plato leave for some time. Dion was enrolled as a pupil at the Academy.

(361) Dionysius invites Plato again, making Plato’s acceptance a condition for restoring Dion. Plato traveled to Sicily with Speusippus. Once Plato arrived, however, Dionysius actually confiscated Dion’s property and Plato was again held prisoner, managing to leave only at the intervention of Archytas. In 357, Dion having despaired at persuading Dionysius of anything, returned home with an army and captured Syracuse. Three years later he was assassinated at the instigation of an Athenian companion, Calippus, who set himself up us tyrant.

(347) Plato dies, age 80. He never married and had also no children.

529 AD. The Emperor Justinian suppresing by laws all non Christian religions also closes the academy of Plato after almost 900 years of operations, an excuse used often is that the school was not more important as it was in the past.

Plato's complete body of work has come down to the present. No genuine writing was lost, though a number of false writings were passed along as his. All, except for the letters, are called dialogues because they are presented mostly in conversational style as discussions between two or more individuals. One of the masterpieces of world literature is the 'Republic'. Like the 'Laws'--Plato's last work--it is book length, while many others are much shorter. The earliest dialogues were those in which Socrates takes the lead in conversation. The shorter ones usually deal with one issue. The 'Lysis', for instance, examines the nature of friendship, while the 'Meno' is a discussion of virtue. The 'Apology' is the last statement of Socrates about his life and work through speeches at his trial for impiety. The 'Republic' discusses the nature of justice and the institutions of society. In some ways it is utopian in that it describes Plato's ideal society. But it also deals with the whole range of human knowledge, the purpose and content of education, and the nature of science. Much of it is a comprehensive ethical treatise in which three types of lives are distinguished. The philosopher is devoted to attaining wisdom, the hedonist seeks only pleasure and self-gratification, and the man of action desires recognition for his practical abilities.

WORK

Alcibiades*
Apology
Charmides 380 BC?
Clitophon*
Cratylus
Critias
Crito 360 BC?
Epigrams
Euthydemus 390 BC?
Euthyphro 380 BC?
Gorgias 380 BC?
Greater Hippias*
Ion
Laches 380 BC?
Laws
Lesser Hippias
Letters
Lysis 380 BC?
Menexenus
Meno 380 BC?
Parmenides 370 BC?
Phaedo 360 BC?
Phaedrus 360 BC?
Philebus
Protagoras 380 BC?
Republic 360 BC?
Sophist 360 BC?
Statesman
Symposium 360 BC?
Theaetetus 360 BC?
Theages
Timaeus

* Not clear if written by Plato, some other publication could also be from Plato.

[2]

Sources

[1] "Hellenica World"

[2] "mlahanas"




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