Abstract Many Philosophers made a difference in society but Plato is perhaps recognized as the most famous. His writings have had a profound effect on people, politics, and the philosophy throughout the centuries. He was a public figure and he made major contributions to society. Plato helped to lay the philosophical foundations of modern culture through his ideas and writings. One of the most philosophical thinkers of Western civilization, Plato is the only author from ancient Greek times whose writings survive intact. His collection consists of thirty-five dialogues and thirteen letters, though the authorship of some is contested.
Plato was born in Athens, into a prosperous aristocratic family. His Father’s name was Ariston and his Mother’s name was Perictione. His relative named Glaucon was one of the best-known members of the Athenian nobility. Plato’s name was Aristocles, his nickname Plato originates from wrestling circles, Plato means broad, and it probably refers either to his physical appearance or his wrestling style. “Plato is, by any reckoning, one of the most dazzling writers in the Western literary tradition and one of the most penetrating, wide-ranging, and influential authors in the history of philosophy,” (Kraut, 2009).
Plato was born during the Golden Age of Athens’s which saw the birth of classical architecture, drama, arts and politics. However, as he was growing up he observed the decline of Athens as a cultural center. He witnessed instances of cruelty, disloyalty, and dishonesty and it was in clear violation of his values. It was also during this time that Plato fell under the influence of Socrates, who engaged the people of Athens in philosophical discussions. “It was into this bright, sly, worldly atmosphere that Socrates appeared, moving questioningly about the streets of Athens”.
(Plato 1984). In 339 Socrates was brought to trial and charged with having false Gods and corrupting the youth. Socrates was found guilty on the charge and was sentenced to death. The execution of Socrates weighed heavily on Plato and he turned away from politics, he thought the behavior of the courts was unjust. He decided not to get involved in political life, instead he decided to leave Athens with other friends of Socrates to travel and study. During his travels he met with all kinds of people and studied not only philosophy but geometry, astronomy, and religious teachings.
Socrates was extremely influential to Plato and he was the main character in numerous writings, he was also influenced by Heraclitus, Parmenides, and the Pythagoreans. One of the most important goals Plato set for himself was to keep the memory of Socrates alive by recording and bringing about the kind of impact that Socrates had on people. Nearly all of Plato’s work takes the structure of dialogues in which Socrates is usually the main character. One of the goals of a Plato’s dialogue is to engross the reader in philosophical questions related to the ideas being discussed.
The Socrates of the Platonic dialogues is modeled after the real Socrates but it is in part an imaginary character used to impart Platonic themes. Plato’s dialogues are divided into three groups, the early or Socratic dialogues; the dialogues of middle age; and the dialogues of old age. In the early dialogues, Socrates is the main character, but it is generally believed that Plato is expressing his own views. These are the only remaining dialogues of Socrates teachings hence; they are referred to as the Socratic dialogues. In The Apology Socrates was accused of having false gods and corrupting the youth.
While on trial Socrates claimed that he was innocent and was not at all wise, “Men of Athens, I honor and love you; but I shall obey God rather than you, and while I have life and strength I shall never cease from the practice and teaching of philosophy… Understand that I shall never alter my ways, not even if I have to die many times. ” (Plato 1984). Middle Dialogues During Plato’s middle period he wrote the following, Meno, Republic, Euthydemus, Menexenus, Cratylus, Phaedrus, Symposium and Phaedo. The most important difference between these writings and his earlier works is that he is establishing his own voice in philosophy.
In the Meno Plato introduces us to the Socratic idea that no one knowingly does wrong, “Virtue is the desire of things honourable and the power of attaining them. ” Plato (1984). In the Phaedo we become familiar with the platonic doctrine of the Forms; this is where Plato makes a claim as to the immortality of the soul. Plato’s most influential work, The Republic, is part of the middle dialogues. It is a discussion of the virtues of justice, courage and wisdom. It addresses the question of how do humans approach living a good life. The dialogue finishes by looking at various forms of government and describing the ideal state.
The allegory of the “Myth of the Cave” is also in The Republic it is an important writing because it contains the main points of his philosophy. It is intended to be a metaphor for education and it explains issues regarding the theory of knowledge. Plato believed one must explore the belief that a greater reality exists. It is through this belief that a person can gain greater insight into true reality and become enlightened. Without it we are like the prisoners of a cave who only see the shadows of objects and live in complete darkness. “And now, I said, let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened, behold!
Human beings living in an underground den” (Plato 1927). It is only through philosophy that we can come out of the cave into the true world. “Who is best suited to rule the state – lovers of opinion or “true philosophers”? (Plato 1927) His final years at the Academy he wrote the later dialogues which included the Parmenides, Theatetus, Sophist, Statesmas, Timaeus, Critias, Philebus, and Laws. It should be noted that Socrates has a minor role in these writings. Plato examines his metaphysical theories through these dialogues. He discusses art, dance, music, poetry, drama, and ethics in connection to immortality and the mind.
He also dedicates himself to the philosophy of mathematics, politics and religion. Plato argued that women were qualified to play a role in politics and philosophy. In The Republic, Socrates argued that women were as capable as men in pursuit of accomplishments. There is a suggestion that women should be educated for their roles in the class of guardians and possibly work next to men. A woman’s role could be significant in society, but different from a man’s role. Even though Plato believed that women were necessary in a working society, he did not mean he thought women were equals of men.
Plato thought that women lacked the strength of men and that women were more suited for other responsibilities in life. “If women are expected to do the same work as men, we must teach them the same things. ” (Plato 1927) The impact of Plato’s work cannot be measured or calculated. His writings had great influence on the entire intellectual development of Western civilization. Despite the fact that Plato did not leave a well-formed, rigid philosophical system he is considered the father for all forms of philosophical idealism and dualism.
“The object of education is to teach us to love what is beautiful. ” (Plato 1984). After he died the Academy continued until AD 529, when it was closed due to its pagan teachings. Neo-Platonism, founded by the 3rd-century philosopher Plotinus, was an important development of Platonism. It was a philosophical system which was as a combination of Platonic, Pythagorean, and Aristotelian elements. Originally it was opposed to Christianity but later on it integrated it. It dominated European thought until the 13th century and re-emerged during the Renaissance.
The most important Renaissance Neo-Platonist was “Marsilio Ficino” who developed significant ideas from Plato and Neo-Platonism. Ficino founded of the Academy in Firenze and was responsible for the circulation of Neo-Platonic ideas. Ficino is credited with translating all of Platos’ dialogues into Latin and produced a great work called Platonic Theology, in which he outlines Neo-Platonism. His philosophy is based on the doctrine that the human soul is the center of the cosmos. It is the only thing that sits between the world of ideas and the world is the soul.
Neo-Platonism was revived in the 17th century by the Cambridge Platonists such as Cudworth and Smith. The school stressed the importance of reason, maintaining that faith and reason are not that different. Rene Descartes an 18th century philosopher and Neo-Platonist developed a method to achieve truths. If something is not recognized by the intellect or reason can be classified as knowledge. According to Descartes. These truths are gained “without any sensory experience” (Descartes). He argued that as a result of his method, reason alone determined knowledge and that this could be done independently of the senses.
“Cogito ergo sum, I think therefore I exist” (Descartes) Plato developed an absolutist ethical theory which is that there is a greater good toward which to aspire. He developed this theory to respond to the skepticism and the beliefs of the Sophists who Plato felt did not preach wisdom, but rather their opinions. Plato tried to protect the part of reasoning in human life though he had resistance from the ancient Greek preachers know as the Sophists. They came from different cities and proclaimed that they were able to impart knowledge to young men how to live prosperous lives.
Even though the Sophists did not belong to a school and did not have a common creed, some opinions were typical of them as a group and were absolutely conflicting to the views of Plato. The Sophists were great communicators and skilled public speakers. Plato felt that the Sophists were more likely to appeal to emotions rather than to reason. According to Plato philosophers influence people’s souls not their bodies and Plato agreed with Socrates in thinking that the nurturing of the soul is more vital than the nurturing of the body.
Furthermore, he also believed that true leaders need to have wisdom, and knowledge. Plato’s influence has been monumental as one philosopher said the history of philosophy is simply “a series of footnotes to Plato. ” (Whitehead) Plato’s has been criticized down through the centuries for his philosophy of the forms. His ideas of the just life and an ideal state are complex. Plato tended to specifically ignores much of human nature. Plato did not think in the realm of the physical world, he was always looking to a different one where things exist only if he can prove there existence.
References Kraut, R. (2009, Sept) Plato Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from http://plato. stanford. edu/entries/plato; Plato. (1984) Great dialogues of Plato New York: Mentor Books trans. by Benjamin Jowett Blackburn, S. (1945) The republic of Plato. (45 ed. ). London: Oxford University Press, USA. trans. By Desmond Lee Descartes. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from http://plato. stanford. edu/entries/descartes-works; Alfred North Whitehead. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from http://plato. stanford. edu/entries/whitehead/