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  • The Greek philosopher Plato was a student of Socrates, and teacher of Aristotle. He

  • wrote on a wide variety of topics including Politics, Aesthetics, Cosmology, and Epistemology.

  • To this day, we refer toPlatonic LoveandPlatonic Ideals.” Plato’s search

  • for knowledge and truth formed the basis of much of Western Philosophy.

  • Plato’s birthdate is disputed - some sources say around 428 BC, others claim 424 BC. In

  • any case, it was a fortunate birth. Plato’s parents were both descended from Athenian

  • nobility. Like other children from distinguished families in Athens, Plato received the best

  • education of the day, studying philosophy, poetry, and gymnastics.

  • Plato grew up during the Peloponnesian War, and as a young man saw the political chaos

  • surrounding the final defeat of Athens by Sparta. Two of Plato’s relatives came to

  • power in the new government, who were known as the Thirty Tyrants, and were notorious

  • for denying Athenians their rights. The group ruled briefly until this despised oligarchy

  • was overthrown and Athens returned to democracy in 403 BC. You might expect, given Plato’s

  • prominent family connections, that he was destined to be a politician.

  • Plato’s life took a different path, however, when he met the great teacher Socrates and

  • was inspired by his philosophy of the pursuit of knowledge and virtue. It’s ironic, considering

  • that Socrates was accused of corrupting the youth of Athens, including Plato. Socrates

  • was unpopular with the Thirty Tyrants, as well as with the leaders of the newly restored

  • democracy. In a grave miscarriage of justice, Socrates was found guilty of the trumped-up

  • offenses and was sentenced to death. Plato tried to prevent his execution, offering to

  • pay a fine to spare Socrateslife. However, Socrates willingly went to his death. Plato

  • was forever afterwards disgusted by politics and dedicated his life to the study of philosophy,

  • like his teacher.

  • Although Plato was famously taught by Socrates, he was also influenced by Pythagoras and others.

  • After Socratesdeath, Plato left Athens and traveled for a dozen years, studying various

  • subjects including mathematics with the Pythagoreans in Italy, and geometry and astronomy in Egypt.

  • During these travels, Plato wrote his early Dialogues, which featured Socrates and his

  • teachings. Since Socrates did not write any books of his own, these Dialogues represent

  • one of the few pictures of the legendary philosopher and his style of discourse.

  • Returning to Athens, Plato founded The Academy around 387 BC. The Academy is thought to be

  • the first Western institution of higher learning. Here, one could attend open-air lectures in

  • astronomy, biology, mathematics, politics, and philosophy. The Socratic Method was commonly

  • used as the form of rational discussion, whereby a given hypothesis is examined by questioning.

  • If these questions lead logically to a contradiction, a new candidate for truth must be adopted.

  • Generations were educated at the Academy until it was destroyed in 86 BC when Athens was

  • conquered by the Romans during the First Mithridatic War. The Academy was revived in the early

  • 5th century by Neoplatonists, who saw themselves as successors to Plato. In 529, Emperor Justinian

  • I of Byzantium closed The Academy once and for all. He saw it as a threat to Christianity.

  • While Plato taught at the Academy, he continued to write. He amassed 35 Dialogues and 13 Letters

  • (known as Epistles), although the authenticity of some of these works has been called into

  • question. Although he was reluctant to write about himself, several of Plato’s family

  • members appear in these works. Most historians consider this a sign of Plato’s pride in

  • his distinguished family.

  • The order in which Plato’s works were written is not known for certain, although some rough

  • grouping is traditionally done by historians as follows: The earliest dialogues, including

  • the Apology and Crito, presented the teachings of Socrates. Later dialogues, such as The

  • Republic and The Symposium, introduce Plato’s Theory of Forms and the relationship between

  • the soul, the state, and the cosmos. Finally, his most mature works are grouped together

  • because they are considered stylistically similar. These include The Laws and Timaeus,

  • and address such topics as law, mathematics, and natural science.

  • The Theory of Forms is at the heart of Platonism - In Plato’s view, reality is unavailable

  • to those who completely rely on their senses. He explained that every object that we could

  • see or interact with in our experience of reality was actually just a mimic of a Form

  • (capital F). For instance, we recognize a brick when we see it, even though every brick

  • is a little bit different, because they are all reflections of some essential, true brick

  • that is the real, Ideal brick. Plato argued that these Forms and other abstract ideas

  • were more real than those things we could see and hear and touch. Universals, such as

  • Justice, Beauty, and Equality are not accessible to the senses, but are understood only

  • through reason.

  • Plato’s view of the condition of humankind is perhaps best captured in his Allegory of

  • the Cave as written in The Republic. The words of this parable are spoken by Socrates and

  • Plato’s brother Glaucon, but it is considered to be Plato’s own ideology. Socrates describes

  • to Glaucon a group of prisoners, chained for their entire lives in a cave, shackled in

  • such a way that they can only look in front of them at one of the walls of the cave. Behind

  • them is a fire, burning brightly. In between the fire and the prisoners is a platform,

  • where objects are exhibited. The prisoners cannot see the reality of these objects, only

  • the shadows they cast on the wall of the cave. If we rely solely on our senses, we are like

  • the prisoners in the cave, who cannot sense the reality behind them, only the poor copies

  • of the real world projected before them. The real word of Ideals can only perceived by

  • reason. Hence the vital importance of the Academy.

  • Plato spent his last years writing and teaching at the Academy. Undoubtedly we cannot know

  • all of what Plato thought, especially since he preferred speaking to writing as a means

  • of transmitting knowledge. According to the writings of his students, Plato had a set

  • of Unwritten Doctrines which were taught only orally. Plato’s most famous student, Aristotle,

  • came to study at the Academy in 367 BC and remained there for the next 20 years. He would

  • go on to found his own academy, called the Lyceum, where he would carry on the great

  • tradition of Plato and Socrates. Plato died around 348 BC, and is believed to be buried

  • on the grounds of the Academy.

The Greek philosopher Plato was a student of Socrates, and teacher of Aristotle. He

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Plato: Biography of a Great Thinker

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    林宜悉 posted on 2020/03/06
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