Plato: Five Dialogues: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Meno, Phaedo (Hackett Classics)
Philosopher Plato Edit Profile
Little is known of his early years, but he was given the finest education Athens had to offer the scions of its noble families, and he devoted his considerable talents to politics and the writing of tragedy and other forms of poetry.
He lived his whole life in Athens although he traveled to Sicily and southern Italy on several occasions, and one story says he traveled to Egypt. His acquaintance with Socrates altered the course of his life. The compelling power which Socrates's methods and arguments had over the minds of the youth of Athens gripped Plato as firmly as it did so many others, and he became a close associate of Socrates.
The end of the Peloponnesian War (404 B.C.) left Plato in an irreconcilable position. His uncle, Critias, was the leader of the Thirty Tyrants who were installed in power by the victorious Spartans. One means of perpetuating themselves in power was to implicate as many Athenians as possible in their atrocious acts. Thus Socrates, as we learn in Plato's Apology, was ordered to arrest a man and bring him to Athens from Salamis for execution. When the great teacher refused, his life was in jeopardy, and he was probably saved only by the overthrow of the Thirty and the reestablishment of the democracy.
Plato was repelled by the aims and methods of the Thirty and welcomed the restoration of the democracy, but his mistrust of the whimsical demos was deepened some 4 years later when Socrates was tried on trumped up charges and sentenced to death. Plato was present at the trial, as we learn in the Apology, but was not present when the hemlock was administered to his master, although he describes the scene in vivid and touching detail in the Phaedo. He then turned in disgust from contemporary Athenian politics and never took an active part in government, although through friends he did try to influence the course of political life in the Sicilian city of Syracuse.
Plato and several of his friends withdrew from Athens for a short time after Socrates's death and remained with Euclides in Megara. His productive years were punctuated by three voyages to Sicily, and his literary output, all of which has survived, may conveniently be discussed within the framework of those voyages.
The first trip, to southern Italy and Syracuse, took place in 388-387 B.C., when Plato made the acquaintance of Archytas of Tarentum, the Pythagorean, and Dion of Syracuse and his infamous brother-in-law, Dionysius I, ruler of that city. Dionysius was then at the height of his power and prestige in Sicily for having freed the Greeks there from the threat of Carthaginian overlordship. Plato became better friends with Dion, however, and Dionysius's rather callous treatment of his Athenian guest may be ascribed to the jealously which that close friendship aroused. On Plato's return journey to Athens, Dionysius's crew deposited him on the island of Aegina, which at that time was engaged in a minor war with Athens, and Plato might have been sold as a prisoner of war had he not been ransomed by Anniceris of Cyrene, one of his many admirers.
On his return to Athens, Plato began to teach in the Gymnasium Academe and soon afterward acquired property nearby and founded his famous Academy, which survived until the philosophical schools were closed by the Christian emperor Justinian in the early 6th century A.D. At the center of the Academy stood a shrine to the Muses, and at least one modern scholar suggests that the Academy may have been a type of religious brotherhood. Plato had begun to write the dialogues, which came to be the hallmark of his philosophical exposition, some years before the founding of the Academy. To this early period, before the first trip to Sicily, belong the Laches, Charmides, Euthyphro, Lysis, Protagoras, Hippias Minor, Ion, Hippias Major, Apology, Crito, and Gorgias. Socrates is the main character in these dialogues, and various abstractions are discussed and defined. The Laches deals with courage, Charmides with sophrosyne (common sense), Euthyphro with piety, Lysis with friendship, Protagoras with the teaching of arete (virtue), and so on. The Apology and Crito stand somewhat apart from the other works of this group in that they deal with historical events, Socrates's trial and the period between his conviction and execution. The unifying element in all of these works is the figure of Socrates and his rather negative function in revealing the fallacies in the conventional treatment of the topics discussed.
Plato's own great contributions begin to appear in the second group of writings, which date from the period between his first and second voyages to Sicily. To this second group belong the Meno, Cratylus, Euthydemus, Menexenus, Symposium, Phaedo, Republic, Phaedrus, Parmenides, and Theaetetus. Development of ideas in the earlier dialogues is discernible in these works.
Plato's second trip to Syracuse took place in 367 B.C. after the death of Dionysius I, but his and Dion's efforts to influence the development of Dionysius II along the lines laid down in the Republic for the philosopher-king did not succeed, and he returned to Athens.
Plato's final group of works, written after 367, consists of the Sophist, the Statesman, Philebus, Timaeus, Critias, and the Laws. The Sophist, takes up the metaphysical question of being and not-being, while the Statesman concludes that the best type of city-state would be the one in which the expert is given absolute authority with no hindrance to his rule from laws or constitution. The Timaeus discusses the rationality inherent in the universe which confirms Plato's scheme, while the Laws, Plato's last work, once again takes up the question of the best framework in which society might function for the betterment of its citizens. Here great stress is laid on an almost mystical approach to the great truth of the rational universe.
Plato's third and final voyage to Syracuse was made some time before 357 B.C., and he was no more successful in his attempts to influence the young Dionysius than he had been earlier. Dion fared no better and was exiled by the young tyrant, and Plato was held in semicaptivity before being released. Plato's Seventh Letter, the only one in the collection of 13 considered accurate, perhaps even from the hand of Plato himself, recounts his role in the events surrounding the death of Dion, who in 357 B.C. entered Syracuse and overthrew Dionysius. It is of more interest, however, for Plato's statement that the deepest truths may not be communicated.
Plato died in 347 B.C., the founder of an important philosophical school, which existed for almost 1, 000 years, and the most brilliant of Socrates's many pupils and followers.
It can be argued, then, that Plato's concept of God affirms Monotheism, although he also talked of an Indefinite Duality (which he also called Large and Small).
Plato's views on Aesthetics were somewhat compromised and he had something of a love-hate relationship with the arts. He believed that aesthetically appealing objects were beautiful in and of themselves, and that they should incorporate proportion, harmony and unity among their parts. As a youth he had been a poet, and he remained a fine literary stylist and a great story-teller. However, he found the arts threatening in that they are powerful shapers of character. Therefore, to train and protect ideal citizens for an ideal society, he believed that the arts must be strictly controlled, and he proposed excluding poets, playwrights and musicians from his ideal Republic, or at least severely censoring what they produced. He also argued that art is merely imitation of the objects and events of ordinary life, effectively a copy of a copy of an ideal Form. Art is therefore even more of an illusion than is ordinary experience, and so should be considered at best entertainment, and at worst a dangerous delusion.
In the "Symposium" and the "Phaedrus", Plato introduces his theory of erôs or love, which has come to be known as "Platonic love". Although he invented the image of two lovers being each other's "other half", he clearly regards actual physical or sexual contact between lovers as degraded and wasteful forms of erotic expression. Thus, unless the power of love is channelled into "higher pursuits" (culminating in the knowledge of the Form of Beauty), it is doomed to frustration, and people sadly squander the real power of love by limiting themselves to the mere pleasures of physical beauty. On an unrelated note, he is also responsible for the famous myth of Atlantis, which first appears in the "Timaeus".
Plato's consideration of epistemology, or the theory of knowledge, comes mainly in the "Theaetetus". In it, he (through the person of Socrates) considers three different theses - that knowledge is perception, that knowledge is true judgement, and that knowledge is true judgement together with an account - refuting each of them in turn, without leaving us with any definitive conclusion or solution. One is left, though, with the impression that Plato's own view is probably that what constitutes knowledge is actually a combination or synthesis of all these separate theses.
"Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something."
"Thinking: the talking of the soul with itself."
"Love is a serious mental disease."
"There are two things a person should never be angry at, what they can help, and what they cannot."
"Better a little which is well done, than a great deal imperfectly."
Quotes from others about the person
“"Why write about Plato nearly 2400 years after his death? Don’t we understand him by now? We do and we don’t. But more important than whether humanity’s collective knowledge about Plato, built up over centuries, includes mastery of his systematic philosophy is whether our generation understands Plato at all."
Danielle Allen, Why Plato Wrote (2010), Prologue: Why Think about Plato?
"Despite the vociferous claims of the Platonists and Neoplatonists, Plato was not a mathematician. To Plato and his followers mathematics was largely a means to an end... they viewed the technical aspects of mathematics as a mere device for sharpening one's wits, or at most a course of training peparatory to handling the larger issued of philosophy. This is reflected in the very name "mathematics,"... a course of studies or... a curriculum. ...in the Dialogues... such topics as harmony, triangular numbers, figurate numbers... which we view today as more or less irrelevant, if not trivial, were taken up at length. ...the guiding motive behind the... Pythagoreans and Platonists was... metaphysical ...which for the nonprofessional have all the earmarks of the occult."
Tobias Dantzig, The Bequest of the Greeks (1955)
"Plato certainly shows something significant. It is on average better to be just. The unjust man must always fear that others will discover his in justices and defend themselves against him, and is exposed to anxieties the just man escapes."
Alan Ryan, Introduction in Justice (1993) edited by Alan Ryan”
Plato never married.