Plato was a great Greek philosopher who lived from 428 to 347 BCE. His family name was Aristocles. He was a friend of Socrates and founded the Academy, where Plato taught his philosophy, which entailed many separate disciplines.
Plato is one of the half-dozen most influential philosophers in world history, and his work is studied today in every philosophy departme nt. Plato's most famous work is The Republic. One of Plato's pupils was Aristotle, an equally important philosopher with a very different philosophy.
Plato's works are different from the majority of philosophical works in style and structure. He wrote dialogs which combined elements of both Greek tragedy and philosophy. His works are conversational dramas filled with irony and 'hidden' content which only the experienced reader will recognize and understand. He did not write explicit treatises, instead slowly and indirectly revealing his ideas over the course of dozens of dialogues written across the course of his life through the words of his character.
Plato's allegory of the cave
Plato had his character Socrates present the myth of the cave in The Republic. In this myth there are men chained in a cave, with a fire somewhere behind them casting light and shadows on the walls in front of them. They cannot turn their heads and may only gaze upon these shadows. The prisoners establish a primitive social order in which respect is granted to those who can correctly predict which shape the flames random gyrations will next be projected onto the wall. In the myth one of these prisoners is set free, and eventually finds his way out of the cave into the realm of the sun and truth. In Socrates' thought experiment of a myth this freed man is then forced to return to the cave, where he tries to tell his companions of the truth he has seen, which they can only understand as the ravings of a madman.
Plato had his characters take the existence of the human soul on faith, following the example of Socrates, who believed in the soul because a benevolent spirit spoke directly to his. In the Phaedo Socrates tells a myth where only as disembodied souls can we possess true knowledge of the Forms. The soul in a human body cannot obtain true knowledge due to the body's failings and distractions. However, by study of philosophy one can regain the path to the true knowledge of the Forms, and prepare oneself for the realm to come after death.
List of works
- First Alcibiades
- Hippias Major
- Hippias Minor
- The Republic
- Kraut, Richard. The Cambridge Companion to Plato (1992) excerpt and text search
- Taylor, Thomas. Introduction to the Philosophy and Writings of Plato (2008) excerpt and text search
- Plato. The Portable Plato ed. by Scott Buchanan (1977) excerpt and text search
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- Works of Plato on Wikisource.
- Works by Plato at Project Gutenberg
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