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The early life and philosophical works of plato

Socrates also fades into the background. Is Plato or Socrates Speaking? Sometimes Plato uses Socrates to convey ideas he disagrees with.

For example, in Protagoras, Socrates takes part in an absurd poetic exegesis that borders on the fallacious. For a straight shooter like Plato, that sort of argument would be unseemly. All of this is to say, that while Plato primarily uses Socrates as the mouthpiece for his own ideas, he does accurately capture the way Socrates taught and discussed the art of philosophy.

Themes to Look For While Reading Plato While Plato was big on logic, he was a masterful writer who utilized literary and poetic symbolism to convey his ideas. As a student of Pythagoras, Plato saw math as a divine and pure language. So, whenever you see anything to do with geometry, math, or numbers, pay attention. Plato was a lover of logic. Apollo is the Greek god of logic, and also the sun god.

So, when you see the sun mentioned in his dialogues, take note. Plato picked the people he did for a reason. They typically represent an idea that Plato was trying to prove wrong.

Plato's Big Ideas Plato covered a lot of philosophical ground during his life. To summarize all of his ideas would require an entire book.

A Primer on Plato: His Life, Works, and Philosophy

Plato believed that the human soul was immortal; it existed before this mortal life, and will exist after this earthly sojourn is through. In the Phaedrus, Plato goes into explicit detail about this belief. In the presence of these Forms, human souls had a complete understanding of all everlasting Truth.

  1. In ancient Athens, a boy was socially located by his family identity, and Plato often refers to his characters in terms of their paternal and fraternal relationships.
  2. Probably sick of his wanderings and misfortunes in Sicily, Plato returned to the philosophical life of the Academy and, most likely, lived out his days conversing and writing.
  3. Socrates, however, resisted and was spared punishment only because a civil war eventually replaced the Thirty with a new and most radical democracy.
  4. According to Plato-via-the-Athenian-Stranger, they should originate from the gods. Dion, his uncle and guardian, persuaded young Dionysus II to send for Plato, who was to serve as his personal tutor.
  5. So, for example, in the Crito, we find Socrates discussing the citizen's duty to obey the laws of the state as he awaits his own legally mandated execution in jail, condemned by what he and Crito both agree was a terribly wrong verdict, the result of the most egregious misapplication of the very laws they are discussing.

However, when people are born, a veil covers their minds, and they forget the perfect knowledge they formerly possessed. Lacking memory of what virtue looks like, mortal humans consequently devolve into debauchery and baseness. And yet part of them still longs to recover their forgotten knowledge, remember the Forms they once knew, and return to the realm of Truth.

This virtue-seeking part of the soul coexists with two other parts: To explain this tripartite view of the human soul, in the Phaedrus Plato constructs his beautiful and often lyrical Analogy of the Chariot.

Enlarge He compares the soul to a chariot being pulled by two winged horses: The dark horse is deformed and obstinate while the white horse is noble and game. The charioteer strives to get these two equines to work together in pulling his chariot into the heavens where the Forms exist — a difficult task, as the white horse wants to soar, while the dark horse seeks to pull the chariot back to earth.

If the charioteer is able to behold the Forms, he gets to go on another revolution around the heavens. The chariot then plummets to earth, the horses lose their wings, and the soul becomes embodied in human flesh. The degree of the fall also determines how long it takes for the horses to regrow their wings and once again take flight. Basically, the more Truth the charioteer beheld on his journey, the shallower his fall, the early life and philosophical works of plato the easier it is for him to get up and get going again.

The Analogy of the Chariot represents what Plato saw as the three competing drives and capacities within the human soul, as well what the telos — or purpose — of life is.

We must obtain harmony between the three parts of our psyches — reason, spirit, and desire — if we wish to succeed in this endeavor. By seeking knowledge, a man can remember what he once knew when he floated amongst the Forms during his premortal existence.

Theory of the Forms For Plato, the ultimate telos of human beings was to understand the Forms, and his concept of them informed many, if not all, of his ideas about ethics, knowledge, politics, and psychology. But what are the Forms exactly? He mentions it here and there throughout his works but primarily in Phaedo and Republicand he refined it as the years went by.

For Plato, reality exists in two realms.

An encyclopedia of philosophy articles written by professional philosophers.

The first is the physical world — the world we can observe with our physical senses. The second is the realm of the Forms. The physical world is constantly changing. People die, buildings crumble, leaves fall. With all this change and uncertainty, how do you know what is real?

Instead, you have to look to the heavens to where the Forms exist. In this eternal realm, Forms exist for every single object or abstract idea in the physical world. The Forms are the pure and perfect essences of everything we see here on earth.

Enlarge The same goes for chairs, women, cats…everything you can think of. A chair is a chair because it approximates the Form of a Chair. It can be a black chair, a leather chair, a chair with no back, a chair with no armrests, etc.

How do we know something is beautiful? Well, because it approximates or comes close to the Form of Beauty. How do we know an act is just? Because it approximates the Form of Justice.

  1. The Timaeus concerns the creation of the world by a Demiurge , initially operating on forms and space and assisted after he has created them by lesser gods. For Numenius it is just that Plato wrote so many philosophical works, whereas Pythagoras' views were originally passed on only orally.
  2. It is reality as it really is.
  3. These other works are generally called the spuria and the dubia.
  4. However, he does attempt now and then to prove the existence of the Forms.
  5. The other issue is that of limits.

While the Forms are independent, they line up in a hierarchy in which the ultimate Form is the Form of the Good, symbolized by the sun. How does Plato know the Forms exist? Well, for most of the dialogues, he just takes their existence for granted. However, he does attempt now and then to prove the existence of the Forms. He does so in the Meno when Socrates teaches an illiterate slave a complex geometric problem. If you read the exchange carefully, Socrates just asks the slave a bunch of leading questions that would naturally result in the slave giving the right answer.

He discusses the main issues in the Parmenides. The first that Plato tackles is figuring out the relationship between a Form and the particular object that approximates a Form. Take the example of chairs. The Forms, Plato says, are indivisible and one there are no sub-forms or variationsso how is it that all the different types of chairs on Earth can be said to look like the Form of a Chair?

The other issue is that of limits. For example, there are black leather chairs. Do these Forms combine to create a black leather chair on earth? Or is there a Form of a Black, Leather Chair that the physical black leather chair approximates?

You can keep adding to that, ad infinitum. By the latter part of his life, Plato knew that his Theory of Forms was on shaky ground, and he made an earnest, but fairly convoluted attempt to respond to his self-criticism in the Sophist.

Plato introduces five categories to explain the existence of objects in reality: His categories appear to be a subset of the Forms — an alternative almost. For example, some philosophers and cosmologists the early life and philosophical works of plato that our universe may in fact just be a hologram or perhaps a virtual reality created by super-intelligent aliens.

For Plato, this pursuit of knowledge was not only how you became wise, but also how you became virtuous. In fact, he would say that virtue is knowledge. To be virtuous requires knowing what virtue is in the first place. This big idea is made explicit in Meno. In it, Socrates takes part in a dialogue with a sophist about the the early life and philosophical works of plato of virtue and whether it can be taught. Unfortunately, Plato observes, very few people take the time to engage in this kind of contemplation.

They mistake the reality of their everyday lives for the only reality that exists. The dialogue begins with Socrates describing a cave inhabited with prisoners chained to a wall. Behind the wall a fire burns.

Dating, editing, translation

But the images are in fact just shadows of things people are carrying on their heads behind the wall to which they are chained. It is reality as it really is. The proper balance between action and contemplation is a question philosophers have been wrestling with ever since antiquity.

Plato (427—347 B.C.E.)

But for Plato, there was no debate: In fact, he thought a man should hold fast to the life of the mind and the integrity of Truth, even if that meant choosing death over capitulation, as Socrates did. Were you not in a way dead already? For it also involved exchanging questions with others — engaging in dialectic. The popular rhetorical style in Athens at the time was Sophistry. The sophists were willing to sell tutoring in these techniques for money, and their services found many takers — especially among the noble class.

To their critics, however, sophists cared more about appearing right than being right. Plato was among these critics, and his dialogues showcase many showdowns between Socrates and these rhetoricians. Having seen firsthand the upheaval a skilled, and corrupt, orator can cause in a democratic government, believing in Truth with a capital T, and contemptuous of the idea of selling wisdom for money, Plato saw Sophistry as the tool of demagogues and incompatible with the aims of the early life and philosophical works of plato ideal government and the pursuit of the Good life.

He argued that dialectic, or dialogue, was the superior way for citizens and wise statesmen alike to exchange ideas and pursue truth. Enlarge Dialectic may seem similar to debating, but the two approaches are actually very different. In debating, the communication is direct and the goal is to win. In dialectic, the goal is to uncover the truth, and the process is gone about in a more indirect way. Remember that Plato believed that humans once knew all Truth, but had forgotten it, so that the acquisition of knowledge consisted not of learning, but remembering.

Through the exchange of questions, dialectic helps participants uncover the Truth.