Plato was born to an aristocratic family in Athens, Greece. When he was a child his
father, Ariston, who was believed to be descended from the early kings of Athens died, and his
mother, Perictione married Pyrilampes.
As a young man Plato was always interested in political
leadership and eventually became a disciple of Socrates. He followed his philosophy and his
dialectical style, which is believed to be the search for truth through questions, answers, and
additional questions. After witnessing the death of Socrates at the hands of the Athenian
democracy in 399 B.C.
, Plato left Athens and continued to travel to Italy, Sicily, and Egypt.
In 387 B.C. Plato founded the Academy in Athens otherwise known as the first European
The Academy provided a wide range of curriculum including subjects such as
astronomy, biology, philosophy, political theory, and mathematics. Aristotle was the Academy’s
most outstanding student. (Internet)
The internal affairs of the academy ruled the next 20 years of Plato’s life and he wrote
nothing. Many Greek youths were attracted to the new school.
Plato then went to Syracuse to
supervise the education of the ruling prince. Plato was not certain about the success of this
adventure although he felt he could not refuse this opportunity of putting his ideas to a test. It
did not work out for Plato and he returned to Athens in 360 B.C.
He then devoted himself to
teaching and lecturing at the Academy. He died at age 80 in Athens in 348 B.C. Before his
death Plato completed the Sophist, the Politicus, the Philebus, the Timaeus and finally the Laws.
The Symposium is the most widely read of Plato’s dialogues with the exception of the
Republic and it is with good reason. It’s literary merit is outstanding with philosophical and
psychological sources (Allen)
THE EARLY DIALOGUES
In the early dialogues Socrates always played the leading roll. In all of them, Plato was
trying to keep the spirit of Socrates alive. There are also early dialogues that portray Socrates in
whimsical moods but always with a serious purpose.
The Republic was the most revealing of all Plato’s early writings. Plato believed that one
could not seriously construct a political theory without a metaphysics. Therefore, we find an
outline of human life as it should be lived according to nature. (Allen)
THE LATER DIALOGUES
In the later dialogues Soctates does not always play the leading role.
He does not enter
into the conversation of Laws. More interest was shown in the possibilities of politics. Law and
legal government were stressed and it greatly influenced Aristotle. It is clear that in later years
Plato became more aware of the difficulties in attempting to combine science with government.
Plato’s main interest at the end of his life was to guide human effort as indicated in his last
dialogues, the Laws. (Allen)
Many students of the Academy were reaching into positions of power in the Greek world.
Plato planned a trilogy at the end of his life, the Timaeus, the Critias, and the Hermoncrates.
THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE
Plato’s theory of knowledge can be found in the myth of the cave.
The myth describes
people chained within a cave. The only images they see are the shadows of objects and animals
held in front of a fire that is behind them that reflects on the cave walls in front of them. That is
all they had ever seen so that is what they believe to be real. One day a man escaped the cave
and went outside.
With the sun he saw what was real in the world and realized all he ever saw
were just shadows. He went back to the men in the cave and told them all this. He told them
too could see the outside if they broke free of their chains but they didn’t believe him. The
environment of the cave to Plato symbolizes the physical world of appearances.
the sun-filled world means the transition into the real world that is full and perfect being the
world of forms, which is the proper object of knowledge. (Hare p.39)
NATURE OF FORMS