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Ancient Greek philosopher

Top 10 Plato related articles

Roman copy of a portrait bust by Silanion for the Academia in Athens (c. 370 BC)
Born428/427 or 424/423 BC
Died348/347 BC (age c. 80)
Athens, Greece
Notable work
EraAncient Greek philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
Notable students
Main interests
Notable ideas

Plato (/ˈplt/ PLAY-toe;[2] Greek: Πλάτων Plátōn, pronounced [plá.tɔːn] in Classical Attic; 428/427 or 424/423 – 348/347 BC) was an Athenian philosopher during the Classical period in Ancient Greece, founder of the Platonist school of thought and the Academy, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world.

He is widely considered the pivotal figure in the history of Ancient Greek and Western philosophy, along with his teacher, Socrates, and his most famous student, Aristotle.[a] Plato has also often been cited as one of the founders of Western religion and spirituality.[4] The so-called neoplatonism of philosophers such as Plotinus and Porphyry greatly influenced Christianity through Church Fathers such as Augustine. Alfred North Whitehead once noted: "the safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato."[5]

Plato was an innovator of the written dialogue and dialectic forms in philosophy. Plato is also considered the founder of Western political philosophy. His most famous contribution is the theory of Forms known by pure reason, in which Plato presents a solution to the problem of universals known as Platonism (also ambiguously called either Platonic realism or Platonic idealism). He is also the namesake of Platonic love and the Platonic solids.

His own most decisive philosophical influences are usually thought to have been along with Socrates, the pre-Socratics Pythagoras, Heraclitus and Parmenides, although few of his predecessors' works remain extant and much of what we know about these figures today derives from Plato himself.[b] Unlike the work of nearly all of his contemporaries, Plato's entire body of work is believed to have survived intact for over 2,400 years.[7] Although their popularity has fluctuated over the years, Plato's works have never been without readers since the time they were written.[8] Plato is often ranked among the most influential people in human history.[9]

Plato Intro articles: 28


Early life

Birth and family

Diogenes Laertius is a principal source for the history of ancient Greek philosophy.

Due to a lack of surviving accounts, little is known about Plato's early life and education. Plato belonged to an aristocratic and influential family. According to a disputed tradition, reported by doxographer Diogenes Laërtius, Plato's father Ariston traced his descent from the king of Athens, Codrus, and the king of Messenia, Melanthus.[10] According to the ancient Hellenic tradition, Codrus was said to have been descended from the mythological deity Poseidon.[11][12]

Through his mother, Plato was related to Solon.

Plato's mother was Perictione, whose family boasted of a relationship with the famous Athenian lawmaker and lyric poet Solon, one of the seven sages, who repealed the laws of Draco (except for the death penalty for homicide).[12] Perictione was sister of Charmides and niece of Critias, both prominent figures of the Thirty Tyrants, known as the Thirty, the brief oligarchic regime (404–403 BC), which followed on the collapse of Athens at the end of the Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC).[13] According to some accounts, Ariston tried to force his attentions on Perictione, but failed in his purpose; then the god Apollo appeared to him in a vision, and as a result, Ariston left Perictione unmolested.[14]

The exact time and place of Plato's birth are unknown. Based on ancient sources, most modern scholars believe that he was born in Athens or Aegina[c] between 429 and 423 BC, not long after the start of the Peloponnesian War.[d] The traditional date of Plato's birth during the 87th or 88th Olympiad, 428 or 427 BC, is based on a dubious interpretation of Diogenes Laërtius, who says, "When [Socrates] was gone, [Plato] joined Cratylus the Heracleitean and Hermogenes, who philosophized in the manner of Parmenides. Then, at twenty-eight, Hermodorus says, [Plato] went to Euclides in Megara." However, as Debra Nails argues, the text does not state that Plato left for Megara immediately after joining Cratylus and Hermogenes.[24] In his Seventh Letter, Plato notes that his coming of age coincided with the taking of power by the Thirty, remarking, "But a youth under the age of twenty made himself a laughingstock if he attempted to enter the political arena." Thus, Nails dates Plato's birth to 424/423.[25]

According to Neanthes, Plato was six years younger than Isocrates, and therefore was born the same year the prominent Athenian statesman Pericles died (429 BC).[26] Jonathan Barnes regards 428 BC as the year of Plato's birth.[22][23] The grammarian Apollodorus of Athens in his Chronicles argues that Plato was born in the 88th Olympiad.[19] Both the Suda and Sir Thomas Browne also claimed he was born during the 88th Olympiad.[18][27] Another legend related that, when Plato was an infant, bees settled on his lips while he was sleeping: an augury of the sweetness of style in which he would discourse about philosophy.[28]

Speusippus was Plato's nephew.

Besides Plato himself, Ariston and Perictione had three other children; two sons, Adeimantus and Glaucon, and a daughter Potone, the mother of Speusippus (the nephew and successor of Plato as head of the Academy).[13] The brothers Adeimantus and Glaucon are mentioned in the Republic as sons of Ariston,[29] and presumably brothers of Plato, though some have argued they were uncles.[e] In a scenario in the Memorabilia, Xenophon confused the issue by presenting a Glaucon much younger than Plato.[31]

Ariston appears to have died in Plato's childhood, although the precise dating of his death is difficult.[32] Perictione then married Pyrilampes, her mother's brother,[33] who had served many times as an ambassador to the Persian court and was a friend of Pericles, the leader of the democratic faction in Athens.[34] Pyrilampes had a son from a previous marriage, Demus, who was famous for his beauty.[35] Perictione gave birth to Pyrilampes' second son, Antiphon, the half-brother of Plato, who appears in Parmenides.[36]

In contrast to his reticence about himself, Plato often introduced his distinguished relatives into his dialogues or referred to them with some precision. In addition to Adeimantus and Glaucon in the Republic, Charmides has a dialogue named after him; and Critias speaks in both Charmides and Protagoras.[37] These and other references suggest a considerable amount of family pride and enable us to reconstruct Plato's family tree. According to Burnet, "the opening scene of the Charmides is a glorification of the whole [family] connection ... Plato's dialogues are not only a memorial to Socrates but also the happier days of his own family."[38]


The fact that the philosopher in his maturity called himself Platon is indisputable, but the origin of this name remains mysterious. Platon is a nickname from the adjective platýs (πλατύς) 'broad'. Although Platon was a fairly common name (31 instances are known from Athens alone),[39] the name does not occur in Plato's known family line.[40] The sources of Diogenes Laërtius account for this by claiming that his wrestling coach, Ariston of Argos, dubbed him "broad" on account of his chest and shoulders, or that Plato derived his name from the breadth of his eloquence, or his wide forehead.[41][42] While recalling a moral lesson about frugal living Seneca mentions the meaning of Plato's name: "His very name was given him because of his broad chest."[43]

Plato was a wrestler

His true name was supposedly Aristocles (Ἀριστοκλῆς), meaning 'best reputation'.[f] According to Diogenes Laërtius, he was named after his grandfather, as was common in Athenian society.[44] But there is only one inscription of an Aristocles, an early archon of Athens in 605/4 BC. There is no record of a line from Aristocles to Plato's father, Ariston. Recently a scholar has argued that even the name Aristocles for Plato was a much later invention.[45] However, another scholar claims that "there is good reason for not dismissing [the idea that Aristocles was Plato's given name] as a mere invention of his biographers", noting how prevalent that account is in our sources.[40]


Ancient sources describe him as a bright though modest boy who excelled in his studies. Apuleius informs us that Speusippus praised Plato's quickness of mind and modesty as a boy, and the "first fruits of his youth infused with hard work and love of study".[46] His father contributed all which was necessary to give to his son a good education, and, therefore, Plato must have been instructed in grammar, music, and gymnastics by the most distinguished teachers of his time.[47] Plato invokes Damon many times in the Republic. Plato was a wrestler, and Dicaearchus went so far as to say that Plato wrestled at the Isthmian games.[48] Plato had also attended courses of philosophy; before meeting Socrates, he first became acquainted with Cratylus and the Heraclitean doctrines.[49]

Ambrose believed that Plato met Jeremiah in Egypt and was influenced by his ideas. Augustine initially accepted this claim, but later rejected it, arguing in The City of God that "Plato was born a hundred years after Jeremiah prophesied."[50]

Later life and death

Plato in his academy, drawing after a painting by Swedish painter Carl Johan Wahlbom

Plato may have travelled in Italy, Sicily, Egypt, and Cyrene.[51] Plato's own statement was that he visited Italy and Sicily at the age of forty and was disgusted by the sensuality of life there. Said to have returned to Athens at the age of forty, Plato founded one of the earliest known organized schools in Western Civilization on a plot of land in the Grove of Hecademus or Academus.[52] This land was named after Academus, an Attic hero in Greek mythology. In historic Greek times it was adorned with oriental plane and olive plantations[53][54]

The Academy was a large enclosure of ground about six stadia (a total of between a kilometer and a half mile) outside of Athens proper. One story is that the name of the Academy comes from the ancient hero, Academus; still another story is that the name came from a supposed former owner of the plot of land, an Athenian citizen whose name was (also) Academus; while yet another account is that it was named after a member of the army of Castor and Pollux, an Arcadian named Echedemus.[55] The Academy operated until it was destroyed by Lucius Cornelius Sulla in 84 BC. Many intellectuals were schooled in the Academy, the most prominent one being Aristotle.[56][57]

Throughout his later life, Plato became entangled with the politics of the city of Syracuse. According to Diogenes Laërtius, Plato initially visited Syracuse while it was under the rule of Dionysius.[58] During this first trip Dionysius's brother-in-law, Dion of Syracuse, became one of Plato's disciples, but the tyrant himself turned against Plato. Plato almost faced death, but he was sold into slavery.[g] Anniceris, a Cyrenaic philosopher, subsequently bought Plato's freedom for twenty minas,[60] and sent him home. After Dionysius's death, according to Plato's Seventh Letter, Dion requested Plato return to Syracuse to tutor Dionysius II and guide him to become a philosopher king. Dionysius II seemed to accept Plato's teachings, but he became suspicious of Dion, his uncle. Dionysius expelled Dion and kept Plato against his will. Eventually Plato left Syracuse. Dion would return to overthrow Dionysius and ruled Syracuse for a short time before being usurped by Calippus, a fellow disciple of Plato.

According to Seneca, Plato died at the age of 81 on the same day he was born.[61] The Suda indicates that he lived to 82 years,[18] while Neanthes claims an age of 84.[19] A variety of sources have given accounts of his death. One story, based on a mutilated manuscript,[62] suggests Plato died in his bed, whilst a young Thracian girl played the flute to him.[63] Another tradition suggests Plato died at a wedding feast. The account is based on Diogenes Laërtius's reference to an account by Hermippus, a third-century Alexandrian.[64] According to Tertullian, Plato simply died in his sleep.[64]

Plato owned an estate at Iphistiadae, which by will he left to a certain youth named Adeimantus, presumably a younger relative, as Plato had an elder brother or uncle by this name.

Plato Biography articles: 86



Bust of Pythagoras in Rome.

Although Socrates influenced Plato directly as related in the dialogues, the influence of Pythagoras upon Plato, or in a broader sense, the Pythagoreans, such as Archytas also appears to have been significant. Aristotle claimed that the philosophy of Plato closely followed the teachings of the Pythagoreans,[65] and Cicero repeats this claim: "They say Plato learned all things Pythagorean."[66] It is probable that both were influenced by Orphism, and both believed in metempsychosis, transmigration of the soul.

Pythagoras held that all things are number, and the cosmos comes from numerical principles. He introduced the concept of form as distinct from matter, and that the physical world is an imitation of an eternal mathematical world. These ideas were very influential on Heraclitus, Parmenides and Plato.[67]

George Karamanolis notes that

Numenius accepted both Pythagoras and Plato as the two authorities one should follow in philosophy, but he regarded Plato's authority as subordinate to that of Pythagoras, whom he considered to be the source of all true philosophy—including Plato's own. For Numenius it is just that Plato wrote so many philosophical works, whereas Pythagoras' views were originally passed on only orally.[68]

According to R. M. Hare, this influence consists of three points:

  1. The platonic Republic might be related to the idea of "a tightly organized community of like-minded thinkers", like the one established by Pythagoras in Croton.
  2. The idea that mathematics and, generally speaking, abstract thinking is a secure basis for philosophical thinking as well as "for substantial theses in science and morals".
  3. They shared a "mystical approach to the soul and its place in the material world".[69][70]

Plato and mathematics

Plato may have studied under the mathematician Theodorus of Cyrene, and has a dialogue named for and whose central character is the mathematician Theaetetus. While not a mathematician, Plato was considered an accomplished teacher of mathematics. Eudoxus of Cnidus, the greatest mathematician in Classical Greece, who contributed much of what is found in Euclid's Elements, was taught by Archytas and Plato. Plato helped to distinguish between pure and applied mathematics by widening the gap between "arithmetic", now called number theory and "logistic", now called arithmetic.[h]

Assignment to the elements in Kepler's Mysterium Cosmographicum

In the dialogue Timaeus Plato associated each of the four classical elements (earth, air, water, and fire) with a regular solid (cube, octahedron, icosahedron, and tetrahedron respectively) due to their shape, the so-called Platonic solids. The fifth regular solid, the dodecahedron, was supposed to be the element which made up the heavens.

Heraclitus and Parmenides

The two philosophers Heraclitus and Parmenides, following the way initiated by pre-Socratic Greek philosophers such as Pythagoras, depart from mythology and begin the metaphysical tradition that strongly influenced Plato and continues today.[67]

Heraclitus (1628) by Hendrick ter Brugghen
Bust of Parmenides from Velia

The surviving fragments written by Heraclitus suggest the view that all things are continuously changing, or becoming. His image of the river, with ever-changing waters, is well known. According to some ancient traditions such as that of Diogenes Laërtius, Plato received these ideas through Heraclitus' disciple Cratylus, who held the more radical view that continuous change warrants scepticism because we cannot define a thing that does not have a permanent nature.[72]

Parmenides adopted an altogether contrary vision, arguing for the idea of changeless Being and the view that change is an illusion.[67] John Palmer notes "Parmenides' distinction among the principal modes of being and his derivation of the attributes that must belong to what must be, simply as such, qualify him to be seen as the founder of metaphysics or ontology as a domain of inquiry distinct from theology."[73]

These ideas about change and permanence, or becoming and Being, influenced Plato in formulating his theory of Forms.[72]

Plato's most self-critical dialogue is the Parmenides, which features Parmenides and his student Zeno, who, following Parmenides' denial of change, argued forcefully through his paradoxes to deny the existence of motion.

Plato's Sophist dialogue includes an Eleatic stranger, a follower of Parmenides, as a foil for his arguments against Parmenides. In the dialogue, Plato distinguishes nouns and verbs, providing some of the earliest treatment of subject and predicate. He also argues that motion and rest both "are", against followers of Parmenides who say rest is but motion is not.


Bust of Socrates at the Louvre.

Plato was one of the devoted young followers of Socrates. The precise relationship between Plato and Socrates remains an area of contention among scholars.

Plato never speaks in his own voice in his dialogues, and speaks as Socrates in all but the Laws. In the Second Letter, it says, "no writing of Plato exists or ever will exist, but those now said to be his are those of a Socrates become beautiful and new";[74] if the Letter is Plato's, the final qualification seems to call into question the dialogues' historical fidelity. In any case, Xenophon's Memorabilia and Aristophanes's The Clouds seem to present a somewhat different portrait of Socrates from the one Plato paints. The Socratic problem asks how to reconcile these various accounts. Leo Strauss notes that Socrates' reputation for irony casts doubt on whether Plato's Socrates is expressing sincere beliefs.[75]

Aristotle attributes a different doctrine with respect to Forms to Plato and Socrates.[76] Aristotle suggests that Socrates' idea of forms can be discovered through investigation of the natural world, unlike Plato's Forms that exist beyond and outside the ordinary range of human understanding. In the dialogues of Plato though, Socrates sometimes seems to support a mystical side, discussing reincarnation and the mystery religions, this is generally attributed to Plato.[77] Regardless, this view of Socrates cannot be dismissed out of hand, as we cannot be sure of the differences between the views of Plato and Socrates. In the Meno Plato refers to the Eleusinian Mysteries, telling Meno he would understand Socrates's answers better if he could stay for the initiations next week. It is possible that Plato and Socrates took part in the Eleusinian Mysteries.[78]

Plato Influences articles: 66



In Plato's dialogues, Socrates and his company of disputants had something to say on many subjects, including several aspects of metaphysics. These include religion and science, human nature, love, and sexuality. More than one dialogue contrasts perception and reality, nature and custom, and body and soul.

The Forms

The "windmill proof" of the Pythagorean theorem found in Euclid's Elements.

"Platonism" and its theory of Forms (or theory of Ideas) denies the reality of the material world, considering it only an image or copy of the real world. The theory of Forms is first introduced in the Phaedo dialogue (also known as On the Soul), wherein Socrates refutes the pluralism of the likes of Anaxagoras, then the most popular response to Heraclitus and Parmenides, while giving the "Opposites Argument" in support of the Forms.

According to this theory of Forms there are at least two worlds: the apparent world of concrete objects, grasped by the senses, which constantly changes, and an unchanging and unseen world of Forms or abstract objects, grasped by pure reason (λογική), which ground what is apparent.

It can also be said there are three worlds, with the apparent world consisting of both the world of material objects and of mental images, with the "third realm" consisting of the Forms. Thus, though there is the term "Platonic idealism", this refers to Platonic Ideas or the Forms, and not to some platonic kind of idealism, an 18th-century view which sees matter as unreal in favour of mind. For Plato, though grasped by the mind, only the Forms are truly real.

Plato's Forms thus represent types of things, as well as properties, patterns, and relations, to which we refer as objects. Just as individual tables, chairs, and cars refer to objects in this world, 'tableness', 'chairness', and 'carness', as well as e. g. justice, truth, and beauty refer to objects in another world. One of Plato's most cited examples for the Forms were the truths of geometry, such as the Pythagorean theorem.

In other words, the Forms are universals given as a solution to the problem of universals, or the problem of "the One and the Many", e. g. how one predicate "red" can apply to many red objects. For Plato this is because there is one abstract object or Form of red, redness itself, in which the several red things "participate". As Plato's solution is that universals are Forms and that Forms are real if anything is, Plato's philosophy is unambiguously called Platonic realism. According to Aristotle, Plato's best known argument in support of the Forms was the "one over many" argument.[79]

What is justice?

Aside from being immutable, timeless, changeless, and one over many, the Forms also provide definitions and the standard against which all instances are measured. In the dialogues Socrates regularly asks for the meaning – in the sense of intensional definitions – of a general term (e. g. justice, truth, beauty), and criticizes those who instead give him particular, extensional examples, rather than the quality shared by all examples.

There is thus a world of perfect, eternal, and changeless meanings of predicates, the Forms, existing in the realm of Being outside of space and time; and the imperfect sensible world of becoming, subjects somehow in a state between being and nothing, that partakes of the qualities of the Forms, and is its instantiation.

The soul

Plato advocates a belief in the immortality of the soul, and several dialogues end with long speeches imagining the afterlife. In the Timaeus, Socrates locates the parts of the soul within the human body: Reason is located in the head, spirit in the top third of the torso, and the appetite in the middle third of the torso, down to the navel.[80][81]


Socrates also discusses several aspects of epistemology. More than one dialogue contrasts knowledge (episteme) and opinion (doxa). Plato's epistemology involves Socrates arguing that knowledge is not empirical, and that it comes from divine insight. The Forms are also responsible for both knowledge or certainty, and are grasped by pure reason.

In several dialogues, Socrates inverts the common man's intuition about what is knowable and what is real. Reality is unavailable to those who use their senses. Socrates says that he who sees with his eyes is blind. While most people take the objects of their senses to be real if anything is, Socrates is contemptuous of people who think that something has to be graspable in the hands to be real. In the Theaetetus, he says such people are eu amousoi (εὖ ἄμουσοι), an expression that means literally, "happily without the muses".[82] In other words, such people are willingly ignorant, living without divine inspiration and access to higher insights about reality.

In Plato's dialogues, Socrates always insists on his ignorance and humility, that he knows nothing, so-called "Socratic irony." Several dialogues refute a series of viewpoints, but offer no positive position, thus ending in aporia.


In several of Plato's dialogues, Socrates promulgates the idea that knowledge is a matter of recollection of the state before one is born, and not of observation or study.[83] Keeping with the theme of admitting his own ignorance, Socrates regularly complains of his forgetfulness. In the Meno, Socrates uses a geometrical example to expound Plato's view that knowledge in this latter sense is acquired by recollection. Socrates elicits a fact concerning a geometrical construction from a slave boy, who could not have otherwise known the fact (due to the slave boy's lack of education). The knowledge must be present, Socrates concludes, in an eternal, non-experiential form.

In other dialogues, the Sophist, Statesman, Republic, and the Parmenides, Plato himself associates knowledge with the apprehension of unchanging Forms and their relationships to one another (which he calls "expertise" in Dialectic), including through the processes of collection and division.[84] More explicitly, Plato himself argues in the Timaeus that knowledge is always proportionate to the realm from which it is gained. In other words, if one derives one's account of something experientially, because the world of sense is in flux, the views therein attained will be mere opinions. And opinions are characterized by a lack of necessity and stability. On the other hand, if one derives one's account of something by way of the non-sensible forms, because these forms are unchanging, so too is the account derived from them. That apprehension of forms is required for knowledge may be taken to cohere with Plato's theory in the Theaetetus and Meno.[85] Indeed, the apprehension of Forms may be at the base of the "account" required for justification, in that it offers foundational knowledge which itself needs no account, thereby avoiding an infinite regression.[86]

Justified true belief

A Venn diagram illustrating the classical theory of knowledge.

Many have interpreted Plato as stating — even having been the first to write — that knowledge is justified true belief, an influential view that informed future developments in epistemology.[87] This interpretation is partly based on a reading of the Theaetetus wherein Plato argues that knowledge is distinguished from mere true belief by the knower having an "account" of the object of their true belief.[88] And this theory may again be seen in the Meno, where it is suggested that true belief can be raised to the level of knowledge if it is bound with an account as to the question of "why" the object of the true belief is so.[89][90]

Many years later, Edmund Gettier famously demonstrated the problems of the justified true belief account of knowledge. That the modern theory of justified true belief as knowledge which Gettier addresses is equivalent to Plato's is accepted by some scholars but rejected by others.[91] Plato himself also identified problems with the justified true belief definition in the Theaetetus, concluding that justification (or an "account") would require knowledge of difference, meaning that the definition of knowledge is circular.[92][93]


Several dialogues discuss ethics including virtue and vice, pleasure and pain, crime and punishment, and justice and medicine. Plato views "The Good" as the supreme Form, somehow existing even "beyond being".

Socrates propounded a moral intellectualism which claimed nobody does bad on purpose, and to know what is good results in doing what is good; that knowledge is virtue. In the Protagoras dialogue it is argued that virtue is innate and cannot be learned.

Socrates presents the famous Euthyphro dilemma in the dialogue of the same name: "Is the pious (τὸ ὅσιον) loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?" (10a)


As above, in the Republic, Plato asks the question, “What is justice?” By means of the Greek term dikaiosune – a term for “justice” that captures both individual justice and the justice that informs societies, Plato is able not only to inform metaphysics, but also ethics and politics with the question: “What is the basis of moral and social obligation?” Plato's well-known answer rests upon the fundamental responsibility to seek wisdom, wisdom which leads to an understanding of the Form of the Good. Plato further argues that such understanding of Forms produces and ensures the good communal life when ideally structured under a philosopher king in a society with three classes (philosopher kings, guardians, and workers) that neatly mirror his triadic view of the individual soul (reason, spirit, and appetite). In this manner, justice is obtained when knowledge of how to fulfill one's moral and political function in society is put into practice.[94]


Oxyrhynchus Papyri, with fragment of Plato's Republic

The dialogues also discuss politics. Some of Plato's most famous doctrines are contained in the Republic as well as in the Laws and the Statesman. Because these doctrines are not spoken directly by Plato and vary between dialogues, they cannot be straightforwardly assumed as representing Plato's own views.

Socrates asserts that societies have a tripartite class structure corresponding to the appetite/spirit/reason structure of the individual soul. The appetite/spirit/reason are analogous to the castes of society.[95]

  • Productive (Workers) – the labourers, carpenters, plumbers, masons, merchants, farmers, ranchers, etc. These correspond to the "appetite" part of the soul.
  • Protective (Warriors or Guardians) – those who are adventurous, strong and brave; in the armed forces. These correspond to the "spirit" part of the soul.
  • Governing (Rulers or Philosopher Kings) – those who are intelligent, rational, self-controlled, in love with wisdom, well suited to make decisions for the community. These correspond to the "reason" part of the soul and are very few.

According to this model, the principles of Athenian democracy (as it existed in his day) are rejected as only a few are fit to rule. Instead of rhetoric and persuasion, Socrates says reason and wisdom should govern. As Socrates puts it:

"Until philosophers rule as kings or those who are now called kings and leading men genuinely and adequately philosophize, that is, until political power and philosophy entirely coincide, while the many natures who at present pursue either one exclusively are forcibly prevented from doing so, cities will have no rest from evils,... nor, I think, will the human race."[96]

Socrates describes these "philosopher kings" as "those who love the sight of truth"[97] and supports the idea with the analogy of a captain and his ship or a doctor and his medicine. According to him, sailing and health are not things that everyone is qualified to practice by nature. A large part of the Republic then addresses how the educational system should be set up to produce these philosopher kings.

In addition, the ideal city is used as an image to illuminate the state of one's soul, or the will, reason, and desires combined in the human body. Socrates is attempting to make an image of a rightly ordered human, and then later goes on to describe the different kinds of humans that can be observed, from tyrants to lovers of money in various kinds of cities. The ideal city is not promoted, but only used to magnify the different kinds of individual humans and the state of their soul. However, the philosopher king image was used by many after Plato to justify their personal political beliefs. The philosophic soul according to Socrates has reason, will, and desires united in virtuous harmony. A philosopher has the moderate love for wisdom and the courage to act according to wisdom. Wisdom is knowledge about the Good or the right relations between all that exists.

Wherein it concerns states and rulers, Socrates asks which is better—a bad democracy or a country reigned by a tyrant. He argues that it is better to be ruled by a bad tyrant, than by a bad democracy (since here all the people are now responsible for such actions, rather than one individual committing many bad deeds.) This is emphasised within the Republic as Socrates describes the event of mutiny on board a ship.[98] Socrates suggests the ship's crew to be in line with the democratic rule of many and the captain, although inhibited through ailments, the tyrant. Socrates' description of this event is parallel to that of democracy within the state and the inherent problems that arise.

According to Socrates, a state made up of different kinds of souls will, overall, decline from an aristocracy (rule by the best) to a timocracy (rule by the honourable), then to an oligarchy (rule by the few), then to a democracy (rule by the people), and finally to tyranny (rule by one person, rule by a tyrant).[99] Aristocracy in the sense of government (politeia) is advocated in Plato's Republic. This regime is ruled by a philosopher king, and thus is grounded on wisdom and reason.

The aristocratic state, and the man whose nature corresponds to it, are the objects of Plato's analyses throughout much of the Republic, as opposed to the other four types of states/men, who are discussed later in his work. In Book VIII, Socrates states in order the other four imperfect societies with a description of the state's structure and individual character. In timocracy the ruling class is made up primarily of those with a warrior-like character.[100] Oligarchy is made up of a society in which wealth is the criterion of merit and the wealthy are in control.[101] In democracy, the state bears resemblance to ancient Athens with traits such as equality of political opportunity and freedom for the individual to do as he likes.[102] Democracy then degenerates into tyranny from the conflict of rich and poor. It is characterized by an undisciplined society existing in chaos, where the tyrant rises as popular champion leading to the formation of his private army and the growth of oppression.[103][99][104]

Art and poetry

Several dialogues tackle questions about art, including rhetoric and rhapsody. Socrates says that poetry is inspired by the muses, and is not rational. He speaks approvingly of this, and other forms of divine madness (drunkenness, eroticism, and dreaming) in the Phaedrus,[105] and yet in the Republic wants to outlaw Homer's great poetry, and laughter as well. In Ion, Socrates gives no hint of the disapproval of Homer that he expresses in the Republic. The dialogue Ion suggests that Homer's Iliad functioned in the ancient Greek world as the Bible does today in the modern Christian world: as divinely inspired literature that can provide moral guidance, if only it can be properly interpreted.

Unwritten doctrines

Bust excavated at the Villa of the Papyri, possibly of Dionysus, Plato or Poseidon.

For a long time, Plato's unwritten doctrines[106][107][108] had been controversial. Many modern books on Plato seem to diminish its importance; nevertheless, the first important witness who mentions its existence is Aristotle, who in his Physics writes: "It is true, indeed, that the account he gives there [i.e. in Timaeus] of the participant is different from what he says in his so-called unwritten teachings (ἄγραφα δόγματα)."[109] The term "ἄγραφα δόγματα" literally means unwritten doctrines or unwritten dogmas and it stands for the most fundamental metaphysical teaching of Plato, which he disclosed only orally, and some say only to his most trusted fellows, and which he may have kept secret from the public. The importance of the unwritten doctrines does not seem to have been seriously questioned before the 19th century.

A reason for not revealing it to everyone is partially discussed in Phaedrus where Plato criticizes the written transmission of knowledge as faulty, favouring instead the spoken logos: "he who has knowledge of the just and the good and beautiful ... will not, when in earnest, write them in ink, sowing them through a pen with words, which cannot defend themselves by argument and cannot teach the truth effectually."[110] The same argument is repeated in Plato's Seventh Letter: "every serious man in dealing with really serious subjects carefully avoids writing."[111] In the same letter he writes: "I can certainly declare concerning all these writers who claim to know the subjects that I seriously study ... there does not exist, nor will there ever exist, any treatise of mine dealing therewith."[112] Such secrecy is necessary in order not "to expose them to unseemly and degrading treatment".[113]

It is, however, said that Plato once disclosed this knowledge to the public in his lecture On the Good (Περὶ τἀγαθοῦ), in which the Good (τὸ ἀγαθόν) is identified with the One (the Unity, τὸ ἕν), the fundamental ontological principle. The content of this lecture has been transmitted by several witnesses. Aristoxenus describes the event in the following words: "Each came expecting to learn something about the things that are generally considered good for men, such as wealth, good health, physical strength, and altogether a kind of wonderful happiness. But when the mathematical demonstrations came, including numbers, geometrical figures and astronomy, and finally the statement Good is One seemed to them, I imagine, utterly unexpected and strange; hence some belittled the matter, while others rejected it."[114] Simplicius quotes Alexander of Aphrodisias, who states that "according to Plato, the first principles of everything, including the Forms themselves are One and Indefinite Duality (ἡ ἀόριστος δυάς), which he called Large and Small (τὸ μέγα καὶ τὸ μικρόν)", and Simplicius reports as well that "one might also learn this from Speusippus and Xenocrates and the others who were present at Plato's lecture on the Good".[45]

Their account is in full agreement with Aristotle's description of Plato's metaphysical doctrine. In Metaphysics he writes: "Now since the Forms are the causes of everything else, he [i.e. Plato] supposed that their elements are the elements of all things. Accordingly the material principle is the Great and Small [i.e. the Dyad], and the essence is the One (τὸ ἕν), since the numbers are derived from the Great and Small by participation in the One".[115] "From this account it is clear that he only employed two causes: that of the essence, and the material cause; for the Forms are the cause of the essence in everything else, and the One is the cause of it in the Forms. He also tells us what the material substrate is of which the Forms are predicated in the case of sensible things, and the One in that of the Forms—that it is this the duality (the Dyad, ἡ δυάς), the Great and Small (τὸ μέγα καὶ τὸ μικρόν). Further, he assigned to these two elements respectively the causation of good and of evil".[115]

The most important aspect of this interpretation of Plato's metaphysics is the continuity between his teaching and the Neoplatonic interpretation of Plotinus[i] or Ficino[j] which has been considered erroneous by many but may in fact have been directly influenced by oral transmission of Plato's doctrine. A modern scholar who recognized the importance of the unwritten doctrine of Plato was Heinrich Gomperz who described it in his speech during the 7th International Congress of Philosophy in 1930.[116] All the sources related to the ἄγραφα δόγματα have been collected by Konrad Gaiser and published as Testimonia Platonica.[117] These sources have subsequently been interpreted by scholars from the German Tübingen School of interpretation such as Hans Joachim Krämer or Thomas A. Szlezák.[k]

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