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Plato, c.427-347 B.C.

plato.jpg (9351 bytes)Although born possibly in Athens of an aristocratic family, little is known of Plato's early life. He did see military service in the Peloponnesian War, became a disciple of Socrates, attended his trial and immortalized him in three of his dialogues: Apology (the defense of Socrates), the Crito (on Socrates' willingness to die), and Phaedo (on immortality). Socrates appears in most of Plato's 35 dialogues but increasingly becomes the spokesman of Platonic and not Socratic principles.

Plato spent time at Megara with the Eleatic philosopher Euclides and from 390 possibly visited Egypt, was certainly at Cyrene with Theodorus the mathematician, toured Greek cities in southern Italy where he learned his Pythagoreanism. In 388, Plato founded the Academy in the western suburbs of Athens. Plato died in in 347 while attending a wedding feast. Plato never married.

According to the style of the dialogues it has been suggested that they belong to three periods. The first period is characterized by an attention to definition, so we have the Charmides (self-knowledge), the Laches (courage), Euthyphro (piety), and the Protagoras (virtue equated with knowledge). The Middle dialogues, in which Plato outlines doctrines more his own than that of Socrates, includes the Meno, perhaps the Timaeus, and the Republic. The latter dialogues are characterized by Plato's rigorous philosophical self-criticism. The theory of forms becomes less prominent and is criticized in Parmenides. The Theaetetus examines perception, the Laws is a considerable modification of the political theory of the Republic, and the Symposium on love, reveals Plato, the poet.

Plato's influence is universal. It extends from his first great disciple and critic Aristotle, through the Stoics into Christian theology via Philo Judaeus and Thomas Aquinas and into various Platonist and neo-Platonist movements of the Renaissance. Both rationalist and empiricist schools owe much to Plato for merging two opposing strands of Greek thought -- the logical one of Parmenides, and the flux of Heraclitus -- into one metaphysical thesis.

The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato. (Alfred North Whitehead)

Greek Philosophy: Plato (Richard Hooker)
Plato entry (
Plato entry (Garth Kemerling)
Plato entry (MacTutor)
Plato entry (Perseus)
Plato and Platonism (Catholic Encyclopedia)
Plato's Collected Works (Internet Classics Archive, MIT)
"Plato's Moral Psychology" (Sheldon Wein)
"Science and Human Values: Plato" (Fred L. Wilson)

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copyright 2000 Steven Kreis
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