Plato was a classical Greek philosopher born 428-7 B.C.E and died in 348-7 B.C.E at the age of 80-81. The trio of Plato, Socrates (his teacher) and Aristotle (his student) they laid the fundamentals of Western philosophy. Along with being a mathematician he was a also a philosopher and a founder of an Academy in Athens, which was first institute which imparted higher end education to students. Socrates has a large influence of his thinking and teachings.
Plato was born in a wealthy family to Ariston and Perictione. According to Diogenes' Plato's birth was a result of Ariston's rape of Perictione. He had two older brothers Glaucon and Adeimantus, and a sister, Potone. Plato also had a half brother, Antiphon when his mother remarried after his father died.
Even though Plato's family did have political connections they were not commendable. His uncle (Charmides) was a member of "Thirty Tyrants" who destroyed the Athenian democracy in 404 B.C.E.
Though people know him by the name of Plato, his given name was Aristocles while Plato was his nickname given to him because of his broad forehead.
Plato began his philosophical career under the guidance of Socrates. When Socrates died he traveled to Egypt and Italy studied in Pythagoras and then remained as an advisor for the rulers of Syracuse. When he returned to Athens around the age of forty he started his own academy, where he tried to impart the Socratic style of teaching to his students. The Academy operated till 529 A.D. after which it was closed, thinking it was a threat to Christianity.
Though Plato was a part of Socratic followers, he didn't make it open. During the last days of Socrates, during the trial any followers including Adeimantus (Plato's brother), came to meet him, but Plato citied the reason that he was ill. He distanced himself from the inner circle of followers of Socrates, which he mentions in his work 'Apology'.Narration of Dialogues and Socrates:
In his works Plato never makes himself a part of the dialogues nor does he claim that he heard any of the dialogues. While in some dialogues there is no narrator, in other Socrates is speaking to some unknown friend as a first person. Three dialogues (Phaedo, Symposium, and Theaetetus) were narrated by students of Socrates, as distant memories. Phaedo is an account of Socrates' final conversation and hemlock drinking, narrated by Phaedo to Echecrates. Symposium is a narration by Apollodorus to Glaucon, of a story that took place when he was an infant. With the exception of Theaetetus, there is no mention how this oral transmission of dialogues was known to Plato.
The facts that Plato is not a part of the narrations and the belief that he was a part of Socrates inner circle, sometimes clashes. The chronology of the characters in his narrations is conflicting. In the Protagoras, Alcibiades and Agathon are teenage boys growing beards, and Apollodoros and Glaucon are fathers of teenage sons. While in reality Glaucon and Apollodorus were infants and Alcibiades and Agathon were full-grown men when the 'Symposium' narrations took place.
The 'Trial of Socrates' is one event which connects all the dialogues. This may be the reason why the work 'Apology' is one of the most read dialogues. In this dialogue, Socrates dismisses rumors that he is a sophist and the long standing slander will be the main reason for his demise. The legal reasons implicated against him are false. His decision to solve the riddle of Oracle made everyone think that he was a menace to Athens, which was false.
Thirteen letters and eighteen epigrams have been credited to Plato. These other works are called 'Spuria'and the 'Dubia'. Both the 'Spuria'and the 'Dubia' are doubted for their authenticity. Ten of the spuria are mentioned by Diogenes Laertius. Only five today exist which are Halcyon, Axiochus, Demodocus, Eryxias, and Sisyphus.
Seventeen or eighteen epigrams are also attributed to Plato by various authors. Only some of these are authentic. Of the ones that are authentic are is a love poem dedicated to a student of astronomy, funerary inscription for that same student, funerary inscription for Plato's Syracusan friend, Dion, love poem to a young woman or girl. None of this epigrams evoke any philosophical interest.
The dialogues of Plato are influenced by human elements. They suggest that Socrates relationship with his followers was more important than his relationship with his family. In this dialogue a long conversation is being listened silently by a group of people.
Some dialogues have only 2 characters whose conversations are not heard by anyone else. In dialogues such as Apology, and Menexenus; Gorgias, Protagoras and Lesser Hippias Socrates is being invited to talk with a wise man who is visiting Athens. The dialogues have been divided into 3 periods of scholarship; early, middle and late periods. While the early dialogues depict Socratic philosophy, the later dialogues depict Plato's own view.
- Important Analogies
The analogies are as important as the arguments and in one of them Socrates analogy to a medical doctor is the most interesting. He says the philosopher's cures the mind while doctor cures the body. In one analogy, which is funny, Socrates compares the mind to a bird cage where knowledge is like birds, fluttering, where you try to reach for one thought and catch the wrong one.
Like the above ones there are many important analogies described by Plato about Socrates in his works.
- Recurrent Themes
Plato thought a lot about the "father-son" relationship. He questioned whether father's interest in his son's had any direct relation with their character. According to Socrates, he was a son of his mother who was a midwife and made fun of father of spent huge amount of money on the education of their sons. He considered character of a person as 'god-gifted'. Knowledge is a matter of recollection, and not of learning, observation, or study is Socrates' viewpoint. This view is in contrast of his nature of forgetfulness. Knowledge is not a practical but comes from divine power. Socrates believed in immortality and afterlife. Most of his dialogues are antithesis of knowledge and opinion, perception and reality, nature and custom, and body and soul. Socrates always had something to say about 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 always denied the existence of material world. This concept of denying and its consequences is called 'Platonism'. Socrates tries to change common man's concept of 'reality' i.e. a thing has to graspable to be real. According to him reality is unavailable to those who use their senses and this clashes his views with the common man. Physical objects and events are shadows of the ideal form and exist to the degree that they create a perfect version of ideal form. They are a transitory occurrence as the shadows. They are mere instances of the ideal forms. The world metaphysics is derived from Aristotle's works on divine reality came after ("meta") his lecture notes on his treatise on nature ("physics"). Plato's metaphysics is understood as the conflicting spheres of material and divine. This theory has cast an important influence on Western philosophy and religion.
- Theory of Forms
The 'Theory of Forms is Plato's view that the material world is not the typical real world which we live in but the shadow of it. Plato spoke of forms in formulating his solution to the problem of universals. These forms are conceptual depiction of things we see around us.
According to Platonic epistemology, knowledge is inherited and learning is development is ideas hidden in the soul. Plato's viewpoint is that each soul existed before birth with "The Form of the Good" and has knowledge about everything. It just has to be "recalled".
He differentiated certain knowledge and uncertain opinion. Opinions derive from the shifting world of sensation; knowledge derives from the world of timeless forms, or essences.
- The State
Plato's philosophical ideology had many social implications, especially on the idea of ideal state or government. Plato declares societies have a tripartite class structure matching the structure of the individual soul. The structure of the individual soul stands for different parts of the body.
Productive: Which represents the abdomen. (Workers)
Protective: Which represents the chest. (Warriors or Guardians)
Governing: which represents the head. (Rulers or Philosopher Kings)
According to Plato a state is made of different kinds of souls, which will weaken form aristocracy (rule by the best) to timocracy (rule by the honorable), then to oligarchy (rule by the few), then to democracy (rule by people) and finally to tyranny (rule by one person, a tyrant). He is trying to warn us about the different kind of rulers that can rule the state and which wise souls and best chosen as advisors to the rulers.
- Platonic Scholarship
Plato's thoughts are often compared to his student, Aristotle's views that completely clouded Plato in the Middle Ages that everybody referred him as 'The Philosopher'. However the study of Plato's works continued in Byzantine Empire. The Medieval scholastic philosophers did not have access to the works of Plato nor did the Western civilization. They were accessible Constantinople's era when brought by George Gemistos Plethon.