Plato


Plato, born in 428 B.C., was originally named Aristocles after his grandfather. He was dubbed "Platon" meaning broad by his wrestling coach on account of his robust figure. Plato was a classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, writer of philosophical thought and dialogues. and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his most famous pupil, Aristotle, Plato played a vital role in laying the foundations of Western philosophy and science. 

The young aristocratic Plato was the most famous of Socrates' students. After the death of Socrates in 399 B.C., Plato fled Athens and traveled throughout North Africa, Italy and the Middle East. After some time away to clear his mind and perhaps motivated to do something special, he returned back to Athens to carry on much of his former teacher's work and eventually founded his own school, the Academy, in 385 B.C. The Academy would become in its time the most famous school in the classical world, and its most famous pupil was Aristotle, who was born around the same time the school commenced. 

We know much about Plato's teachings, because he wrote dialogues between Socrates and others that would explore philosophical issues. These dialogues would be used in his school as starting points for discussion; these discussions and Plato's final word ont he dialogues have all been lost to us. The Platonic dialogues consist of Socrates asking questions of another and proving, through these questions, that the other person has the wrong idea on the subject. Initially, Plato seems to have carried on the philosophy of Socrates, concentrating on the dialectical examination of basic ethical issues: what is friendship? what is virtue? can virtue be taught? In these early Platonic dialogues, Socrates questions another person and proves, through these questions, that the other person has the wrong idea on the subject. These dialogues never answer the questions they begin with. 

Plato is best know for his work "Republic" and the numerous dialogues of Socrates, who himself had no written work. In fact, the only way we know of Socrates is mainly through Plato. Plato (speaking through Socrates) divides human beings up based on their innate intelligence, strength, and courage. Those who are not overly bright, or strong, or brave, are suited to various productive professions: farming, smithing, building, etc. Those who are somewhat bright, strong, and especially courageous are suited to defensive and policing professions. Those who are extraordinarily intelligent, virtuous, and brave, are suited to run the state itself; that is, Plato's ideal state is an aristocracy, a Greek word which means "rule by the best." The lower end of human society, which, as far as Plato is concerned, consists of an overwhelming majority of people in a state, he calls the "producers," since they are most suited for productive work. The middle section of society, a smaller but still large number of people, make up the army and the police and are called "Auxiliaries." The best and the brightest, a very small and rarefied group, are those who are in complete control of the state permanently; Plato calls these people "Guardians." In the ideal state, "courage" characterizes the Auxiliaries; "wisdom" displays itself in the lives and government of the Guardians. A state may be said to have "temperance" if the Auxiliaries obey the Guardians in all things and the Producers obey the Auxiliaries and Guardians in all things. A state may be said to be intemperate if any of the lower groups do not obey one of the higher groups. A state may be said to be just if the Auxiliaries do not simply obey the Guardians, but enjoy doing so, that is, they don't grumble about the authority being exercised over them; a just state would require that the Producers not only obey the Auxiliaries and Guardians, but that they do so willingly.

In 347 B.C., Plato passed away at the remarkable age of eighty-one. Just as Socrates was followed by his pupil Plato, Plato was followed by his pupil Aristotle - thus inscribing the legacy of the peerless trio of phenomenal Greek philosophers. Aristotle developed and criticized Plato's thought, introducing many of his own ideas, and in the process created a philosophy and subsequent school of his own. But Plato's philosophy in its purer form continued to flourish at the Academy, where it became known as Platonism. Plato's Academy was to flourish in Athens until it was finally closed by the Emperor Justinian in 529 A.D., in his attempt to suppress pagan Hellenistic culture in favor of Christianity. This date is now regarded by many historians as marking the end of Greco-Roman culture and the start of the Dark Ages.

A variety of sources have given accounts of Plato's death. One story, based on a mutilated manuscript, suggests Plato died in his bed, whilst a young Thracian girl played the flute to him. Another tradition suggests Plato died at a wedding feast. The account is based on Diogenes Laertius's reference to an account by Hermippus, a third century Alexandrian. According to Tertullian, Plato simply died in his sleep. Whatever the case, Plato's legacy lives on even today through his genius of giving us Socrates, his philosophies and mentoring the young Aristotle who would later be the tutor for the son of King Philip II, Alexander the Great.






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