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Plato Essay, Research Paper


Plato was born about 429 BC. He came of an Athenian family that was aristocratic on both sides. His father, Ariston, was believed to have descended from the early kings of Athens. Perictione, his mother, was distantly related to the 6th- century BC lawmaker Solon. When Plato was a child, his father died, and his mother married Pyrilampes, who was an associate of the statesman Pericles. It is said that his original name was Aristocles, be we are told that his wrestling instructor named him ‘Plato’ on account of his robust figure, but this report can not be confirmed.

He was educated along the required lines of his aristocratic background: reading and writing, music and gymnastics, politics and strategy, and literary arts. As a young man Plato had political ambitions. He twice attempted to enter Athenian political life: first under the “Thirty” and again when democracy was restored shortly afterward. But he became disillusioned by the political leadership in Athens and after meeting Socrates, probably in about 407, became one of his disciples and turned to the study of philosophy.

After witnessing the death of Socrates in 399 BC, Plato and some of his fellow pupils took temporary refuge with the philosopher Eaclides of Megara. After which, he left Athens temporarily and traveled to Italy, Sicily, and Egypt for around twelve years. It was in 387 that he met King Dionysius I of Syracuse and became a close friend of Dionysius’ brother-in-law Dion. Plato was said to have gotten into an argument with Dionysius and was sailed to Aegina to be sold as a slave. It was not until Archytas, a close friend of Plato, paid his ransom, that Plato was set free. Archytas was a well-known Pythagorean philosopher and mathematician.

On his return to Athens, he began teaching near the tomb of Academus outside the city, for which he Academy took it’s name. It was in 387 that the Academy was built in Athens, the institution often described as the first European university. It provided a comprehensive curriculum, including such subjects as astronomy, biology, mathematics, political theory, and philosophy. Plato then devoted most of the last four decades of his life to his school. After his death, he was even buried inside of it.

He did, however, take tow further visits to Sicily. On the death of Dionysius I in 367, Dion summoned him to try to make his nephew, the young Dionysius II, into the ideal philosopher-king; but Dionysius grew jealous of the friendship between the two older men and compelled Dion to leave Syracuse. Apparently, Plato then returned to Athens. He went back one more time for different reasons.

The concluding years of his life were spent lecturing at the Academy and writing. He died at about the age of 80 in Athens in 348 or 347 BC. It is said that his death took place at a wedding party or while he was engaged in writing.

Plato wrote many books, all in dialogue form; philosophical ideas were advanced, discussed, and criticized in the context of a conversation or debate involving two or more persons. The earliest collection of Plato’s work includes 35 dialogues and 13 letters. The authenticity of a few of the dialogues and most of the letters has been disputed.

The dialogues may be divided into early, middle, and later periods of composition. The early periods of composition consist of six different dialogues. All of these dialogues have Socrates as the main character and discuss mainly Socrates’ philosophies. Included in this group of dialogues are Charmides, Lysis, Laches, Protagoras, Euthyphro, and Book I of the Republic. Charmides is an attempt to define temperance while Lysis is a discussion of friendship. Laches is a dialogue about the pursuit of the meaning of courage and Protagoras is just a defense of the thesis that virtue is knowledge and can be taught. Euthyphro is a consideration of the nature of piety. The first book of the Republic is a discussion on justice.

The dialogues of the middle and later periods of Plato’s life reflect his own philosophical development. Most scholars attribute the ideas in these works to Plato himself, although Socrates continues to be the main character in many of the dialogues. The writings of the middle period include seven different dialogues like Gorgias, which is a consideration of several ethical questions Plato was asked. Meno, another dialogue, is a discussion of the nature of knowledge. The Apology was Socrates’ defense of himself at his trial against the charges of atheism and corrupting Athenian youth; while Crito was Socrates’ defense of obedience to the laws of the state. Phaedo is the death scene of Socrates, in which he discusses the theory of Forms, the nature of the soul, and the question of immortality. The Symposium was Plato’s outstanding dramatic achievement, which contains several speeches on beauty and love. The Republic was Plato’s supreme philosophical achievement, which is a detailed discussion of the nature of justice.

The works of his later period include the Theaetetus, a denial that knowledge is to be identified with sense perception, Parmenides, a critical evaluation of the theory of Forms, and Sophist, further consideration of the theory of Ideas, or Forms. Philebus was also a work of Plato’s later period. It is a discussion of the relationship between pleasure and the good. Timaeus, also a member of the later period, is Plato’s views on natural science and cosmology. The Laws was a more practical analysis of political and social issues.

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