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Western Philosophy
Ancient philosophy <tr><td colspan="2" style="text-align: center;">
Plato - (ca. 427-347 B.C.)
Name: Plato
Birth: c.427428 BC

<tr><th style="text-align: right;">Death:</th> <td>347 BC</td></tr>

School/tradition: Platonism

<tr><th style="text-align: right;">Main interests:</th> <td>Metaphysics, Epistemology, Ethics, Aesthetics, Politics, Education, Philosophy of mathematics, Metaphilosophy</td></tr><tr><th style="text-align: right;">Notable ideas:</th> <td>Platonic realism</td></tr><tr><th style="text-align: right;">Influences:</th> <td>Socrates, Archytas, Democritus, Parmenides, Pythagoras</td></tr><tr><th style="text-align: right;">Influenced:</th> <td>Almost all Western philosophers</td></tr>

Plato (Greek: Πλάτων, Plátōn, "wide, broad-shouldered") (c. 427–c. 347 BC), whose real name is believed to have been Aristocles, was an immensely influential ancient Greek philosopher, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens where Aristotle studied.

The Platonic corpus is, like most collections of ancient literature, corrupt and disputed. His brilliance as a writer and thinker is proved in the core of his Socratic dialogs, but much of the material that is ascribed to him, including some dialogs, letters, and lawbooks is considered spurious. Plato is thought to have lectured at the Academy, although the pedagogical function of his dialogs, if any, is not known.


[edit] Plato & Socrates

Socrates is the main character in Plato's great 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". Another dimension of the problem is the degree to which the Socrates story is fictional. Plato's portrait of Socrates is thought by many to be at odds with Aristophanes' portrait of him as a buffoon in his prize-winning play, "The Clouds."

Plato hints that he was part of the Socratic entourage but never says so explicitly. In the Phaedo the title character lists those who were in attendance at the prison on Socrates last day and says "Plato was ill" (Phaedo 59b). In the Apology, Plato distances himself from the inner circle. Socrates says there that the brothers of several of his former associates are in the audience. He says that Plato, brother to Adeimantus, was present (Apology 34a). Adeimantus appears in the Republic as a disputant.

Plato not only never presents himself as a participant in any of the dialogs, he often takes pains to distance himself from them. With the exception of the Apology, he does not claim to have heard any of the dialogs firsthand. In one important dialog, Plato explicitly denies having written it. (In the Theaetetus (142c-143b), Euclides says that he compiled the conversation from notes he took based on what Socrates told him of his conversation with the title character.) Plato's absence from the dialogs is at odds with traditional belief that he was a disciple and part of the inner circle.

[edit] The Trial of Socrates

The trial of Socrates is the central, unifying event of the great Socratic dialogues. Important dialogues refer to it explicitly, allude to it, or use characters or themes that play a part in it. For example in both the Theaetetus (210d) and the Euthyphro (2a-b) Socrates tells people that he has corruption charges to face. In Meno (94e-95a), Anytus speaks ominously to Socrates about the trouble he may get into if he does not stop criticizing important people. Anytus is mentioned in the Apology as one of the men who brought the formal charges against Socrates. The Apology is Socrates' defense speech, and the Crito and Phaedo take place in prison after the conviction.

Two other important dialogues, the Symposium and the Phaedrus, are linked to the main storyline by characters. In the Apology (19b,c), Socrates says Aristophanes slandered him in a comic play, and blames him for causing his bad reputation, and ultimately, his death. In the Symposium, Plato pictures the two of them drinking together with other friends. The character Phaedrus is linked to the main story line by character (Phaedrus is also a participant in the Symposium) and by theme (the philosopher as divine emissary, etc.) Two minor dialogues, Charmides and Lysis, are explicitly pedophilic, and are linked to the death of Socrates by the theme of child corruption: Socrates is pictured as befriending children whose guardians are either complicit with or indifferent to the older man's attempts to be convivial with them.

[edit] Unity & Diversity in the Dialogues

Many other dialogues ascribed to Plato also use the Socrates character, but do not share his concern with human and political virtue. In the dialogues for which Plato is most celebrated and admired, Socrates has a distinctive personality, and friends and enemies who "travel" with him from dialog to dialog. In other dialogues, Plato uses Socrates as a mere name, a voice-marker who does not have the distinctive, self-depricating wit of the important dialogues. Several of these bear the mark of his distinctive genius, others do not. The metaphysical dialogues attributed to Plato do not contain material of human interest, but are very abstract and read by specialists.

The great dialogues have been divided by influential scholarship into the early, middle and late periods. The late Princeton scholar and classist, Gregory Vlastos argued that the Euthyphro, Apology, Crito and Phaedo were written first and are a more or less historical record of the philosophy of the historical character Socrates. Vlastos argues that Plato's "early dialogs" represent Socratic philosophy, and that the middle and later dialogues can be counted on to give the reader Plato's own philosophy. This division of the dialogues is not indicated by the dialogues themselves.

[edit] The question of Socratic Literacy

Tradition has long puzzed over why Socrates did not leave a written legacy. The ancient Greeks had been highly literate for several hundred years before the Golden Age of Greece. Entire works and fragments remain from dozens of poets, philsophers, scientists, and rhetoricians. Socrates left not even a single line, and may have been only semi-literate. In Phaedo, Socrates implies that he got his idea that mind is the cause of everything from a man who was reading a book out loud. He said the man told him the author was Anaxagoras (Phaedo 97c). In the Apology, he says that Anaxoragas' silly (atheist) ideas about the sun being a stone and the earth being a mass of earth, and not gods, can be purchased in the market for a drachma (Apology 26d,e). Socrates insists that he is not the innovator of these impieties.

In the Phaedrus Socrates is critical of the innovation of writing because it implants forgetfulness in the soul of the reader and because writing so often gets into the hands of people who have no business with it (275a-e). In only one dialogue does Socrates indicate a personal interest in writing. He tells his disciples in Phaedo that he has spent his last days in prison writing songs using material from Aesop's fables. Socrates famously recommends in the Republic that classical favorites like Homer's Iliad and Odyssey be rewritten, and Homer be sent into exile (Repub. 3.398a).

[edit] Atheism and Free Speech in Athens

The trial of Socrates is anomalous: from what is known about Athens in the fifth century BCE, it should not have taken place. Socrates was charged with atheism, which was not a crime in free-speech Athens, and apparently not even unusual among intellectuals, nor condemned by the masses. The prize winning plays of Aristophanes are not merely atheist, but consistently ridicule the gods and traditional heroes. Aristophanes presents Heracles as a meathead, and the high-god Zeus as a lusty reprobate. There is no record that the comic was ever prosecuted for atheism, and some have speculated that comics enjoyed special legal immunity. However, there is no evidence of this.

Also puzzling is the fact that Socrates exonerates himself in large part by claiming to be sent on his philosophic mission by Apollo, an important figure in the standard Greek pantheon. Critics of Plato have speculated that Socrates offended powerful people, and guessed that the charges were trumped up by his enemies, and that the conviction is a black mark on an otherwise exemplary people. This too, is part of the Socratic problem.

[edit] Biography

Plato is thought to have been 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 (platutês) 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 seems to have traveled extensively in Italy, Sicily, Egypt, and Cyrene in a quest for knowledge. Said to have returned 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 mentions many of his contemporaries by name in the dialogues. Political and literary figures, past and present, abound. Plato refers to Homer in many dialogues, but Socrates' attitude toward him is inconsistent. Socrates compares himelf to Achilles with regard to courage in the Apology, and condems him for being emotionally overwrought and greedy in the Republic.

Plato is thought to be 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.

[edit] Work

Raphael's Plato in The School of Athens fresco, probably in the likeness of Leonardo da Vinci. Plato gestures to the heavens, representing his belief in The Forms.

[edit] Structure & Themes

Many of Plato's dialogues are framed by human elements. Before the arguments and discussions begin, Plato set the stage in space and time, and gives the reader some sense of the participants. It is not unusual for a dialogue to be told by a person who was not in attendance at the original conversation, and it is not unusual either, for a number of people, named and unnamed alike, to overhear the conversation. For example, the discussion in the Protagoras takes place at the home of the Athenian Callias, whose house is so jammed with famous sophists and their admirers that Prodicus holds court in a storage room (Protag. 315d). In general no more than three people are active participants in a dialogue at any one time. Sometimes people pop in and out, as Anytus does in the Meno. Some dialogs are conversations between only two people with no one said to be overhearing, and two of Plato's dialogs (the often read Apology and the little read Menexenus) are better described as monologues. The human elements always give important clues as to how the dialog ought to be interpreted.

The analogies in the dialogues are as interesting as the arguments, but less often noted. Socrates frequently compares ideas with children, and always disfavorably (Symposium 209a-e). He aso compares them with food (Protag 313c- 314c). Socrates repeatedly compares the philosopher, who cures the mind ("psyche") of its worst ailment, ignorance, with a medical doctor ("iatros"). Today, doctors of the mind are called "psych-iatrists". Socrates compared the body to a prisonhouse for the soul, and promoted the distinction that remains today, that body and soul are hard to reconcile. Socrates also famously compares himself to a midwife to men and boys who are "pregnant with thought."

The arguments in the dialogs concern above all, human and political virtue. Under this rubric fall the discussions about piety, self-restraint, courage, friendship and love. A very frequent topic is the question of whether or not virtue can be taught, and what it is. Knowledge and opinion, perception and reality, nature and custom, body and soul, pleasure and pain, crime and punishment, are themes that appear in more than one dialog. Immortality of the soul, the function of art and literature, rhetoric and rhapsody, the treatment of women and slaves, types of government; there is hardly a subject of human interest that did not interest Plato, and to which Plato did not bring timeless insights.

[edit] Metaphysics

Main article: Platonic realism
Image:Sanzio 01 Plato Aristotle.jpg
Detail of The School of Athens by Raffaello Sanzio, 1509, showing Plato (pointing upwards, as if to the Form of the Good) and Aristotle (holding his hand palm down to Earth, favouring material evidence).

Platonism has traditionally been interpreted as a form of metaphysical dualism [citation needed], sometimes referred to as Platonic realism, and is regarded as one of the earlier representatives of metaphysical objective idealism.<ref>[1]</ref> 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 or Idea 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).

[edit] Epistemology

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.

[edit] The state

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, as well as in "The Laws" and "The Statesman". 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.

  • Productive (Workers) — the labourers, carpenters, plumbers, masons, merchants, farmers, ranchers, etc. These correspond to the "appetite" part of the soul.
  • Protective (Warriors or Auxiliaries) — those who are adventurous, strong and brave; in the armed forces. These correspond to the "spirit" part of the soul.
  • Governing (Rulers or Guardians) — those who are intelligent, rational, self-controlled, in love with wisdom, well suited to make decisions for the community. These correspond to the "reason" part of the soul and are very few.

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:

"Until philosophers rule as kings or those who are now called kings and leading men genuinely and adequately philosophise, that is, until political power and philosophy entirely coincide, while the many natures who at present pursue either one exclusively are forcibly prevented from doing so, cities will have no rest from evils,... nor, I think, will the human race." (Republic 473c-d)

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.

[edit] Platonic scholarship

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

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.'

[edit] Bibliography

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

[edit] Tetralogy

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.

[edit] Tetralogies

[edit] Works not in Thrasyllus' tetralogies

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.

[edit] Stephanus pagination

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.

[edit] Chronology

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:

  1. Foundation: Phaedrus, Lysis, Protagoras, Laches, Charmides, Euthyphro, Parmenides;
  2. Transition: Gorgias, Theaetetus, Meno, Euthydemus, Cratylus, Sophist, Statesman, Symposium, Phaedo, Philebus
  3. Culmination: The Republic, (Critias, Timaeus, The Laws)

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<ref>1264b24-27</ref> 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.

[edit] Early dialogues

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:

[edit] Middle 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.

[edit] Late dialogues

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.

[edit] Loeb Classical Library

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.

Academic Genealogy
Notable teachers Notable students
Socrates Aristotle</br>Theophrastus

[edit] See also

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[edit] Footnotes


[edit] References

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  • Jackson, Roy (2001). Plato: A Beginner's Guide. London: Hoder & Stroughton. ISBN 0-340-80385-1.
  • Kraut, Richard (Ed.) (1993). The Cambridge Companion to Plato. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-43610-9.
  • Melchert, Norman (2002). The Great Conversation: A Historical Introduction to Philosophy. McGraw Hill. ISBN 0-19-517510-7.
  • Meinwald, Constance Chu (1991). Plato's Parmenides. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-506445-3.
  • Sallis, John (1996). Being and Logos: Reading the Platonic Dialogues. Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-21071-2.
  • Sallis, John (1999). Chorology: On Beginning in Plato's "Timaeus". Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-21308-8.
  • Taylor, A. E. (2001). Plato: The Man and His Work, Dover Publications, ISBN 0-486-41605-4
  • Vlastos, Gregory (1981). Platonic Studies, Princeton University Press, ISBN 0-691-10021-7
  • Oxford University Press publishes scholarly editions of Plato's Greek texts in the Oxford Classical Texts series, and some translations in the Clarendon Plato Series.
  • Harvard University Press publishes the hardbound series Loeb Classical Library, containing Plato's works in Greek, with English translations on facing pages.
  • Smith, William. (1867 — original). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. University of Michigan/Online version.
  • Aspects of antiquity: Discoveries and Controversies by M.I. Finley, issued 1969 by The Viking Press, Inc.

[edit] External links


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