Thursday, October 01, 2009

Plato (427-347 BCE)


Plato (427-347 BCE)

Life and Works
. . Socratic method
. . Knowing Virtue
. . Soul & Form
. . Justice
. . Social Life
. . Specific Virtues
. . Good Rulers
. . Knowledge
. . Value of Justice
. . Love
Internet Sources

The son of wealthy and influential Athenian parents, Plato began his philosophical career as a student of Socrates. When the master died, Plato travelled to Egypt and Italy, studied with students of Pythagoras, and spent several years advising the ruling family of Syracuse. Eventually, he returned to Athens and established his own school of philosophy at the Academy. For students enrolled there, Plato tried both to pass on the heritage of a Socratic The Academy style of thinking and to guide their progress through mathematical learning to the achievement of abstract philosophical truth. The written dialogues on which his enduring reputation rests also serve both of these aims.

In his earliest literary efforts, Plato tried to convey the spirit of Socrates's teaching by presenting accurate reports of the master's conversational interactions, for which these dialogues are our primary source of information. Early dialogues are typically devoted to investigation of a single issue, about which a conclusive result is rarely achieved. Thus, the Euqufrwn (Euthyphro) raises a significant doubt about whether morally right action can be defined in terms of divine approval by pointing out a significant dilemma about any appeal to authority in defence of moral judgments. The Apologhma (Apology) offers a description of the philosophical life as Socrates presented it in his own defense before the Athenian jury. The Kritwn (Crito) uses the circumstances of Socrates's imprisonment to ask whether an individual citizen is ever justified in refusing to obey the state.

Although they continue to use the talkative Socrates as a fictional character, Plato the middle dialogues of Plato develop, express, and defend his own, more firmly established, conclusions about central philosophical issues. Beginning with the Menwn (Meno), for example, Plato not only reports the Socratic notion that no one knowingly does wrong, but also introduces the doctrine of recollection in an attempt to discover whether or not virtue can be taught. The Faidwn (Phaedo) continues development of Platonic notions by presenting the doctrine of the Forms in support of a series of arguments that claim to demonstrate the immortality of the human soul.

The masterpiece among the middle dialogues is Plato's Politeia (Republic). It begins with a Socratic conversation about the nature of justice but proceeds directly to an extended discussion of the virtues (Gk. areth [aretê]) of justice (Gk. dikaiwsunh [dikaiôsunê]), wisdom (Gk. sofia [sophía]), courage (Gk. andreia [andreia]), and moderation (Gk. swfrosunh [sophrosúnê]) as they appear both in individual human beings and in society as a whole. Plato This plan for the ideal society or person requires detailed accounts of human knowledge and of the kind of educational program by which it may be achieved by men and women alike, captured in a powerful image of the possibilities for human life in the allegory of the cave. The dialogue concludes with a review of various forms of government, an explicit description of the ideal state, in which only philosophers are fit to rule, and an attempt to show that justice is better than injustice. Among the other dialogues of this period are Plato's treatments of human emotion in general and of love in particular in the FaidroV (Phaedrus) and Sumposion (Symposium).

Plato's later writings often modify or completely abandon the formal structure of dialogue. They include a critical examination of the theory of forms in ParmenidhV (Parmenides), an extended discussion of the problem of knowledge in QeaithtoV (Theaetetus), cosmological speculations in TimaioV (Timaeus), and an interminable treatment of government in the unfinished LegeiV (Laws).

Recommended Reading:

Primary sources:

  • Platonis opera, ed. by J. Burnet (Oxford, 1899-1906)
  • Plato, Complete Works, ed. by John M. Cooper and D. S Hutchinson (Hackett, 1997) {Order from}
  • The Collected Dialogues of Plato, ed. by Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns. (Princeton, 1961) {Order from}
  • Great Dialogues of Plato, tr. by W. H. D. Rouse (Signet, 1999) {Order from}
  • Plato, The Republic, tr. by G. M. Grube (Hackett, 1992) {Order from}
  • Plato, Laws

Secondary sources:

  • The Cambridge Companion to Plato, ed. by Richard Kraut (Cambridge, 1992) {Order from}
  • Bernard A. O. Williams, Plato (Routledge, 1999) {Order from}
  • R. M. Hare, Plato (Oxford, 1983) {Order from}
  • David Melling, Understanding Plato (Oxford, 1988) {Order from}
  • Feminist Interpretations of Plato, ed. by Nancy Tuana (Penn. State, 1994) {Order from}
  • Plato I: Metaphysics and Epistemology, ed. by Gregory Vlastos (Anchor, 1971)
  • Plato II: Ethics, Politics, and Philosophy of Art, Religion, ed. by Gregory Vlastos (Anchor, 1971) {Order from}
  • John M. Cooper, Reason and Emotion (Princeton, 1998) {Order from}
  • Nickolas Pappas, Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Plato and the Republic (Routledge, 1999) {Order from}
  • Daryl H. Rice, Guide to Plato's Republic (Oxford, 1997) {Order from}
  • Plato's Republic: Critical Essays, ed. by Richard Kraut (Rowman & Littlefield, 1997) {Order from}
  • Claudia Baracchi, Of Myth, Life, and War in Plato's Republic (Indiana, 2001) {Order from}
  • Nicholas White, Individual and Conflict in Greek Ethics (Oxford, 2002) {Order from}
  • Alexander Nehamas, Virtues of Authenticity (Princeton, 1998) {Order from}
  • Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy: Volume XX, ed. by David Sedley (Oxford, 2001) {Order from}
  • Engendering Origins: Critical Feminist Readings in Plato and Aristotle, by Bat-Ami Bar On (SUNY, 1994) {Order from}
  • Plato's Timaeus as Cultural Icon, ed. by Gretchen J. Reydams-Schils (Notre Dame, 2002) {Order from}
  • John Sallis, Chorology: On Beginning in Plato's Timaeus (Indiana, 1999) {Order from}

Additional on-line information about Plato includes:

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