Plato


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Plato (427-347 BC), Greek philosopher, student and friend of Socrates, and author of The Republic; "Then, I said, let us begin and create in idea a State; and yet the true creator is necessity, who is the mother of our invention."

Plato had a profound influence on Western political and scientific thought, for as Alfred North Whitehead said, "All western philosophy consists of footnotes to Plato." His works cover various subjects like education, ethics, epistemology, mathematics, metaphysics, natural science, politics, and philosophy. Included among them are Laws; "I can show you that the art of calculation has to do with odd and even numbers in their numerical relations to themselves and to each other.", Parmenides; "You cannot conceive the many without the one." and The Republic; "The knowledge of which geometry aims is the knowledge of the eternal.", ultimately discussing man's relationship with his soul, the state, and the universe.

Although many of his ideas and theories are controversial, "Plato is philosophy, and philosophy, Plato, at once the glory and the shame of mankind, since neither Saxon nor Roman have availed to add any idea to his categories."--Ralph Waldo Emerson `Plato, or The Philosopher', he is also well known and respected as being a faithful disciple of Socrates and being the primary source of information on the man, his life and ideas. A number of Plato's works contain the conversations he purportedly heard between his teacher and others; his philosophy, the charges of his impiety, ensuing trial and his last days in the Socratic Dialogues including Apology;

"The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our ways--I to die, and you to live. Which is better God only knows."--Socrates before he drinks the cup of poison hemlock.

Plato was born into an aristocratic family in Athens, Greece around 427 BC, the son of Ariston and his wife Perictione. It is said that `Plato' is a nickname in reference to his wrestler's broad shouldered physique. Athens was in conflict with Sparta during the Peloponnesian War at the time, and Plato soon became disillusioned with the Empire and abandoned his political aspirations. Around the age of twenty he became a student of Socrates.

Devoting his life to seeking the truth and examining such issues as virtue and piety through the dialectic questioning of his pupils, Socrates was also critical of the religious and political institutions of the day. Soon he was charged with heresy and corrupting the youth of Athens, and thus began Plato's writing in earnest. Apology and Crito were among his Socratic works to follow. After his teacher's death, around the age of forty Plato founded the Academy, of which Aristotle was a pupil, in a grove sacred to the demigod Academus, near Athens. Astronomy, mathematics, and philosophy were among the subjects taught there. Apart from a few years spent travelling and studying in other parts of the Mediterranean, Plato spent the majority of his life in Athens until his death in 347 BC.

Plato further developed his ideas and theories in such works as Symposium; Phaedo--"False words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil."; and The Republic, including his Theory of Forms and various Platonisms. From The Republic we get his metaphor of the cave: prisoners are chained inside a cave, their only reality that which they see directly in front of them on the wall. Shadows of men, animals, and objects are cast on it because there is a fire behind them. The prisoners believe that the shadows are speaking and thus learn to `name' things and form their ideas of what is `real'. Now, take the prisoner from this cave, and he will be blinded by the light, and slowly learn that his reality is not quite what it seems. So suggests Plato in his Theory of Forms, that the words we use to `name' things are not truly representative of reality, that the universal is found separately from the tangible, for as Socrates said;

"it is the greatest good for a man to discuss virtue every day and those other things about which you hear me conversing and testing myself and others, for the unexamined life is not worth living."

Biography written by C.D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc. 2006. All Rights Reserved.

The above biography is copyrighted. Do not republish it without permission.

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