Plato (Πλάτων) was born with the name, Aristocles (Ἀριστοκλῆς), after his grandfather. There are a few theories as to how he was given the nickname; some say it was his wrestling coach that gave him the name because of his broad, robust figure. But whatever the origin, Plato, is world renown.
A simple summary of our subject can be found in the article, “Plato,” in the Encyclopaedia Britannica:
Plato was a philosopher in Classical Greece. He was also a mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his most-famous student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the foundations of Western philosophy and science.
It is as important to note the minds that influenced Plato, as it is to note the ones he himself had an influence on. As mentioned earlier, Socrates was a key mentor in his life. I find it humorous that in a dialogue, Socrates mentioned Plato by name as one of those youths close enough to him to have been corrupted, if he were in fact guilty of corrupting the youth. In addition, Aristotle, the most noteworthy student of Plato, implied that Plato’s theories were far beyond that of his teacher, Socrates. And while Aristotle became more influential than Plato in the 13th century, his philosophy was still in certain respects fundamentally Platonic.
Though the three men are prominent for their minds, it seems their ways of thinking often varied. This may be how one of my favorite things Aristotle said came to be, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” Socrates was the son of a midwife; Plato the son of an influential aristocratic family. Socrates mocked men who spent excessive fees on tutors and trainers for their sons; Plato was graced with a wealthy father who supplied such tutors and trainers. Perhaps in response to these differences, Plato often discussed the father-son relationship and the question of whether a father’s interest in his sons had much to do with how well his sons turned out. (Read more here.)
Plato is often characterized as quick-minded, modest, hard-working, and a lover of learning. In addition to wrestling, he was also taught gymnastics (which makes me love him all the more). Something I enjoy reading in Plato’s accounts is his contrasts between knowledge and opinion, perception and reality, nature and custom, and body and soul. “Platonism” is a term created by scholars to refer to the intellectual consequences of denying the reality of the material world, as Plato’s Socrates often did. Put simply, Platonism is the distinction between reality that is perceptible, but not intelligible, and that which is intelligible, but imperceptible.
The Theory of Forms leads me to explain the idea that the only true being is founded upon the “forms,” the eternal, unchangeable, perfect types, of which particular objects of sense are imperfect copies. Platonism had a profound effect on Western thought, and many Platonic notions were adopted by the Christian church which understood Platonic forms as God’s thoughts, while Neoplatonism became a major influence on Christian theology. Through St Augustine, known as the Doctor of the Catholic Church, whose Christian writings were heavily influenced by Plotinus’ Enneads, the foundations for the whole of Western Christian thought was influenced. Platonism was considered authoritative in the Middle Ages, and many Platonic notions are now permanent elements of Christianity. Platonism also influenced both Eastern and Western theology. (Read more here.)
Plato’s philosophical views had significant impact on society, especially on the idea of an ideal state or government. Some of the most famous doctrines are contained in the Republic during his middle period, as well as in the Laws and the Statesman. Plato, through the words of Socrates, asserts that societies have a class structure consisting of three parts, which correspond to the appetite/spirit/reason structure of the individual, and each representing a different part of the body. The body parts symbolize the class of society. Productive, which represents the abdomen, and also the working class; this corresponds to the “appetite” part of the soul. Protective, which represents the chest, and also the warriors or military; this corresponds to the “spirit” part of the soul. And Governing, which represents the head, or the rulers or philosopher kings; this corresponds to the “reason” part of the soul and are very few.
Of course I do not agree on every topic with dear Plato, but I think studying his thoughts and the impacts his philosophy has had on society is whorthwhile. Below are a few of my favorite things he said.
All loves should be simply stepping stones to the love of God. No human thing is of serious importance. Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber. No one ever teaches well who wants to teach, or governs well who wants to govern. Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance. I know not how I may seem to others, but to myself I am but a small child wandering upon the vast shores of knowledge, every now and then finding a small bright pebble to content myself with. Thinking: The talking of the soul with itself. Those who intend on becoming great should love neither themselves nor their own things, but only what is just, whether it happens to be done by themselves or others. Knowledge becomes evil if the aim be not virtuous. We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light. If particulars are to have meaning, there must be universals. To love rightly is to love what is orderly and beautiful in an educated and disciplined way.