Plato was born to an aristocratic family in Athens - Greece. When he was a child his father, Ariston who was believed to be descended from the early kings of Athens, died and his mother Perictione married Pyrilampes. As a young man Plato was always interested in political leadership and eventually became a disciple of Socrates. He followed his philosophy and his dialectical style which is believed to be the search for truth through questions and answers and additional questions. After witnessing the death of Socrates at the hands of the Athenian democracy in 399 B.C., Plato left Athens and continued to travel to Italy, Sicily and Egypt.
In 387 B.C. Plato founded the Academy in Athens otherwise known as the first European university. The Academy provided a wide range of curriculum including subjects such as astronomy, biology, philosophy, political theory and mathematics. Aristotle was the Academy's most outstanding student.
The internal affairs of the academy ruled the next 20 years of Plato's life and he wrote nothing. Many Greek youths were attracted to the new school. Plato then went to Syracuse to supervise the education of the ruling prince. Plato was not certain about the success of this adventure although he felt he could not refuse this opportunity of putting his ideas to a test. It did not work out for Plato and he returned to Athens in 360 B.C. He then devoted himself to teaching and lecturing at the Academy. He died at age 80 in Athens in 348 B.C. Before his death Plato completed the Sophist, the Politicus, the Philebus, the Timaeus and finally the Laws.
The Symposium is the most widely read of Plato's dialogues with the exception of the Republic and it is with good reason. Its literary merit is outstanding with philosophical and psychological sources.
THE EARLY DIALOGUES
In the early dialogues Socrates always played the leading roll. In all of them, Plato was trying to keep the spirit of Socrates alive. There are also early dialogues that portray Socrates in whimsical moods but always with a serious purpose. The Republic was the most revealing of all Plato's early writings. Plato believed that one could not seriously construct a political theory without metaphysics. Therefore, we find an outline of human life as it should be lived according to nature.
THE LATER DIALOGUES
In the later dialogues Socrates does not always play the leading role. He does not enter into the conversation of Laws. More interest was shown in the possibilities of politics. Law and legal government were stressed and it greatly influenced Aristotle. It is clear that in later years Plato became more aware of the difficulties in attempting to combine science with government. Plato's main interest at the end of his life was to guide human effort as indicated in his last dialogues - the Laws. Many students of the Academy were reaching into positions of power in the Greek world. Plato planned a trilogy at the end of his life, the Timaeus, the Critias and the Hermoncrates.
THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE
Plato's theory of knowledge can be found in the myth of the cave. The myth describes people chained within a cave. The only images they see are the shadows of objects and animals held in front of a fire that is behind them that reflects on the cave walls in front of them. That is all they had ever seen so that is what they believe to be real. One day a man escaped the cave and went outside. With the sun he saw what was real in the world and realized all he ever saw were just shadows. He went back to the men in the cave and told them all this. He told them that they too could see the outside if they broke free of their chains but they didn't believe him. The environment of the cave to Plato symbolizes the physical world of appearances. Escaping into the sun-filled world means the transition into the real world that is full and perfect being the world of forms which is the proper object of knowledge.
NATURE OF FORMS
The theory of Forms may be understood best in terms of mathematical entities. This theory was his way of explaining how the same universal term can refer to so many particular things or events. An individual is human to the extent that they resemble or participate. In the Form humanness if humanness is defined in terms of being a rational animal and human being to the extent that he or she is rational. An object is beautiful to the extent that it participates in the Idea, or Form of beauty. Everything in the world of space and time is what it is by virtue of its resemblance to, or participation in, it's universal Form. The supreme Form is the Form of Good which like the sun in the myth of the cave, illuminates all the other ideas. The theory of Forms is intended to explain how one comes to know and also how things have come to be the way that they are.
Plato's ethical theory rests on the assumption that virtue is knowledge and can be taught which has to be understood in terms of his theory of Forms. One of his famous arguments is that to know the good is to do the good. Along with that he states that anyone who behaves immorally does so out of ignorance. He also says that a truly happy person is a moral person and they become individuals and always desire their own happiness. They always desire to do that which is moral.
Plato illustrates truth by telling the well-known story of Gyges. Gyges one day stumbled upon a chasm in the opening of the earth after a heavy rainfall. He came upon a horse made of bronze which had a door on the side of it. He opened it up and saw the body of a man of super human stature, wearing a gold ring. He took the ring off the finger of the body and placed it upon his own. He later realized that if he turned the bezel of the ring inwards in the direction of the palm of his hand he would become invisible. He would use the ring to his advantage many a time. He would kill off anyone that stood in his way and he got whatever he wanted without anyone suspecting him. He even quickly rose to be the King of Lydia. Now, think of the same ring in the hands of a wise man. He would not consider that it would give him the right to do wrong any more than if it did not belong to him. For to act secretly is not what a good man aims at it is what he wants to do to act rightly.
Plato's writings were in dialogue form. The earliest collection of Plato's work includes 35 dialogues and 13 letters. It is still disputed if some of them are authentic or not. The works of Plato can be split up into 3 groups. The earliest dialogues represent his attempt to communicate the philosophy and style of Socrates. Many of the dialogues take the same for of the writings from him.
Plato's actual achievements in his field were great. He had a greater claim than anyone else to be called the founder of philosophy. What is unique about Plato is the progress towards a much tougher, more precise logical and metaphysical theory, a moral philosophy and a philosophy of language. Through discussion and criticism, they shaped the entire future of philosophy.
Plato's development of the topic THE ONE AND THE MANY sought an explanation of the variety of things on reason. The search started with the question WHAT WERE THEIR ORIGINS and WHAT ARE THEY ALL MADE OF. Scientists went on asking this question and answering it. Plato grasped the truth that understanding is different from science and just as important.
One of Plato's most famous ideas is the idea that the world is a rational place and that we are all here for a reason. People are good because they want to be good not because they will be punished if they are not and rewarded if they are. Plato works from top to bottom with his philosophy as opposed to bottom to top. It is shown by his work that you do not run into as many problems doing it the reverse way that he does. Rationality is used to eliminate the feeling in a person. It is the complete opposite of emotion. Rationality is used in all views. Emotion causes more problems because none of the acts such as hate, love, murder, lust, fear....are rational.
This idea of reason usually conflicts with the ideas of the bible but in Plato's case the views were quite similar. Art is a form that is not looked upon as highly in society as rationality because there is so much emotion put into it. One of the best examples is love. Love is not a rational thought and with art love is expressed a lot throughout important pieces. Rational thought is known to be able to start government and lifestyles, although not all lifestyles can be controlled.
Take for instance an alcoholic is an alcoholic because they are not being rational and it is not that they can't stop drinking it is that they don't have enough willpower to stop. It all comes down to lack of control and lack of reason. Most of what we do is not based on rational thought and even though we know that it should be we too do not have the willpower to change our lifestyles around. First of all, we wouldn't be able to survive because it would mean getting rid of all emotional thoughts and feelings and that is close to impossible. Second to live like that would seem so far out and unreal that no one would even try to attempt it. No one can live life without love, lust, hate and fear they are things that every human being is born with and will die with. Plato always presumed that rational was good and right, but to us in this world rational is impossible.
More Essays on Philosophy
Plato To HOME PAGE