Plato was the father of Western philosophy, a great Greek philosopher who lived from 428 to 347 BC. His family name was Aristocles. He was a friend of Socrates and founded the Academy, where Plato taught his philosophy, which entailed many separate disciplines.
Plato had an immense positive influence on early Christians. Saint Augustine said, “The utterance of Plato, the most pure and bright in all philosophy, scattering the clouds of error ....” Plato's influence on early Christian thinkers included:
- an afterlife with a heaven as absolute truth, such that we remain conscious after our physical death;
- the rejection of materialism and atheism;
- the division of the soul from the body, with the soul closer to truth and good;
- acceptance of the intelligent design of the universe.
Plato is one of the half-dozen most influential philosophers in world history, and his work is studied today in every philosophy department. Plato's most famous work is The Republic. One of Plato's pupils was Aristotle, an equally important philosopher with a philosophy that grew out of Plato's school.
Platonism influenced Greco-Roman culture after Plato's time and was the most important philosophical influence upon the early Christian philosophers who sought to understand and defend biblical teaching.
Plato's works are different from the majority of philosophical works in style and structure. He wrote dialogs which combined elements of both Greek tragedy and philosophy. His works are conversational dramas filled with irony and 'hidden' content which only the experienced reader will recognize and understand. And he did not write explicit treatises, instead slowly and indirectly revealing his ideas over the course of dozens of dialogues written across the course of his life through the words of his characters.
Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it.
Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.
As the builders say, the larger stones do not lie well without the lesser.
Excess generally causes reaction, and produces a change in the opposite direction, whether it be in the seasons, or in individuals, or in governments.
Plato had his character Socrates present the myth of the cave in The Republic. In this myth there are men chained in a cave, with a fire somewhere behind them casting light and shadows on the walls in front of them. They cannot turn their heads and may only gaze upon these shadows. The prisoners establish a primitive social order in which respect is granted to those who can correctly predict which shape the flames random gyrations will next be projected onto the wall. In the myth one of these prisoners is set free, and eventually finds his way out of the cave into the realm of the sun and truth. In Socrates' thought experiment of a myth this freed man is then forced to return to the cave, where he tries to tell his companions of the truth he has seen, which they can only understand as the ravings of a madman.
Plato had his characters take the existence of the human soul on faith, following the example of Socrates, who believed in the soul because a benevolent spirit spoke directly to his. In the Phaedo Socrates tells a myth where only as disembodied souls can we possess true knowledge of the Forms. The soul in a human body cannot obtain true knowledge due to the body's failings and distractions. However, by study of philosophy one can regain the path to the true knowledge of the Forms, and prepare oneself for the realm to come after death.
List of Works
- The Republic
- Philippians 1:23.
- Turner, William (1911). "Plato and Platonism". The Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: Robert Appleton Company), vol. 12. Retrieved from New Advent on September 19, 2014.
- Kraut, Richard. The Cambridge Companion to Plato (1992) excerpt and text search
- Taylor, Thomas. Introduction to the Philosophy and Writings of Plato (2008) excerpt and text search
- Plato. The Portable Plato ed. by Scott Buchanan (1977) excerpt and text search