Section 11: About Plato

Plato (428/427 BC – 348/347 BC) was one of the great philosophers of ancient Greece and Athens during the Classical period. According to Diogenes Laërtius, his real name was Aristocles, but he was given the nickname Plato due to his broad build. Many consider him to be the greatest philosopher in history. Along with his teacher Socrates and his student Aristotle, he is one of the three great philosophers of ancient Greece. The philosopher-king and the theory of “Forms” are two main ideas in his works. Plato was born into a wealthy and influential political family in Athens in 427 BC. His real name was not Plato, but Aristocles. The meaning of Plato in Greek is broad. It is not clear why this nickname was given to him, and many explanations have been offered. Some say he was called Plato because of his broad and robust physique, while others say it was due to his broad forehead. Some suggest that the nickname was given to him because of the breadth of his thoughts and lofty ideas. Plato came from a noble and prominent family. His father’s lineage traced back to Codrus, the last king of Athens, and after his reign, Athens became a republic. His mother’s lineage came from another famous person, Solon, who was a wise man and one of the Seven Sages of Greece. Solon was not a king, but he held a position of wisdom among the ancient Greeks. Many stories have been told about him. Plato was very intelligent from childhood, and his father hired teachers in music, philosophy, gymnastics, and literature for him. Pythagoras also had a significant influence on him. At the age of twenty, he became a student of Socrates to complete his education. This companionship and apprenticeship continued for eight years, although there are doubts about this matter. In 399 BC, Plato witnessed the self-imposed execution of his teacher Socrates by the Athenian court and wrote that Socrates rejected the proposal to escape from Athens. After the execution of Socrates, Plato left Athens for Megara. He traveled to various Greek cities and foreign countries such as Megara for several years. After a trip to Sicily in 387 BC, at the age of forty, he returned to Athens and founded a philosophical school called the Academy, which became famous. His teachings there were delayed due to two trips he made to Sicily in 366 and 361 BC.

Plato died in 347 BC, and he entrusted the leadership of the Academy to Speusippus, his nephew and also his student. The Academy: In 387 BC, Plato created his “school of science, philosophy, and literature” called the Academy, named after the sacred area of Academus. The Academy can legitimately be considered the first European university because its studies and research were not limited to pure philosophy but also included a variety of sciences, including astronomy, mathematics, natural sciences, and music. Moreover, in all cases, Plato emphasized a scientific spirit, not just things that have practical applications. Aristotle was a student of the Academy for twenty years and later became a professor there. Plato’s works are in the form of dialogues, and according to Taylor’s statement regarding the assumption that we have a complete collection of Plato’s books, all his conversations are available, even though there is no report of his teachings at the Academy.

The most important book left by Plato is “The Republic.” This book has ten dialogues. In all of his works, Socrates’ conversations with various individuals are accurately recorded with their names mentioned. “The Republic” is a dialogue about justice, death, imitation, tyranny, and other topics that usually revolve around Socrates. This book is the result of Socrates’ conversations with Glaucon (Plato’s brother), Simias, Hippocrates, and several others. Another work by Plato is “Symposium,” a dialogue about love. This book has a narrative and story-like style that takes place at a party in Athens where Socrates is present. We are witnesses to the conversations of the characters in the story in different parts of the book. Among other works of Plato, “Laches” about courage, which is inconclusive; “Ion” against poets and reciters of the time; “Cratylus” about the theory of language; and “Phaedrus,” which implies the nature of love, can be mentioned. It is likely that “Phaedrus” was written between Plato’s first and second trips to Sicily. It is worth mentioning that aside from the mentioned works, Plato has dozens of other works. He proposed a theory called the “Theory of Forms,” which is also known as the “Allegory of the Cave,” in which he mentioned that humans have a similar counterpart in another world. In this theory, humans, animals, and all other beings have a perfect exemplar or template, from which the existing creatures on Earth have taken shape. Below is a list of Plato’s books that are considered authentic or almost certain today, in chronological order, and of course, this order is speculative and approximate. I have tried to use the original Greek names for the books as much as possible to respect their authenticity, and unfortunately, I could not find the Greek names for some of them and had to use English sources.

I will also mention the alternate names that have been given to these books, which are listed under their English names.

Book: “Theaetetus” in Greek and “Theaetetus” or “Knowledge” in English.

Book: “Phaedrus” in Greek and “Phaedrus” or “Religion” in English.

Book: “Hippias Major” in Greek and “Hippias Major” or “Beauty” in English.

Book: “Alcibiades I” in Greek and “Alcibiades I” or “Human Nature” in English.

Book: “Hippias Minor” in Greek and “Hippias Minor” or “Lying” in English.

Book: “Charmides” in Greek and “Charmides” or “Temperance” in English.

Book: “Laches” in Greek and “Laches” or “Courage” in English.

Book: “Lysis” in Greek and “Lysis” or “Friendship” in English.

Book: “Protagoras” in Greek and “Protagoras” or “Sophists” in English.

Book: “Gorgias” in Greek and “Gorgias” or “On Rhetoric” in English.

Book: “Menon” in Greek and “Menon” or “Virtue” in English.

Book: “Phaedo” in Greek and “Phaedo” or “Soul” in English.

Book: “Symposium” in Greek and “Symposium” or “Banquet, Love” in English.

Book: “Phaedrus” in Greek and “Phaedrus” or “Beauty” in English.

Book: “Ion” in Greek and “Ion” or “Poetry” in English.

Book: “Menexenus” in Greek and “Menexenus” or “Funeral Oration” in English.

Book: “Euthydemus” in Greek and “Euthydemus” or “The Eristic” in English.

Book: “Cratylus” in Greek and “Cratylus” or “The Nature of Names” in English.

Book: “Politics” in Greek and “Politics” or “Justice” in English.

Book: “Parmenides” in Greek and “Parmenides” or “Forms as Such” in English.

Book: “Theaetetus” in Greek and “Theaetetus” or “Knowledge” in English.

Book: “Sophist” in Greek and “Sophist” or “Being” in English.

Book: “The Statesman” in Greek and “The Statesman” or “The Art of Ruling” in English.

Book: “Philebus” in Greek and “Philebus” or “Pleasure” in English.

Book: “Timaeus” in Greek and “Timaeus” or “Nature” in English.

Book: “Critias” in Greek and “Critias” or “Atlantis” in English.

Book: “Laws” in Greek and “Laws” or “Legislation” in English.

Book: “Epinomis” in Greek and “Epinomis” or “The Philosopher, Late Night Conversation” in English.

Plato’s view on art: Diogenes Laërtius has said that Plato initially engaged himself in studying painting and poetry, but after becoming familiar with Socrates, he abandoned his poetry and gave up emotions in favor of reason. However, in works such as “Symposium,” the fusion of philosophy and poetry can easily be seen. In truth, no philosopher in history, like Plato, has completely rejected poetry and art, to the extent that he even considered poetry to be pointless and poets unaware of themselves. The tenth book of “The Republic” deals with the discussion of the incompatibility of philosophy and poetry from Plato’s perspective. According to Plato, philosophy deals with sensory and mental data, empirical sense, reasoning, and rationalism, and does not fundamentally deal with human inner feelings, romantic, or emotional aspects. However, in Plato’s view, poetry and art are related to the world of imagination, emotions, and sentiments. From Plato’s point of view, all arts are imitation. For example, when a person creates a sculpture of a person, they actually create an image of a person that is also derived from the world of “likeness,” and as a result, they consider the sculpture to be a copy. Anyone who is searching for truth is inevitably forced to belittle art, according to Plato. Additionally, in another view of Plato, the idea of beauty is similar to what is experienced in love, and can reach the realm of high-level thoughts, but art can only flatter, deceive the senses, and feed the mind on illusions. According to Plato, the standard of the value of art is not pleasure, but rather beauty. The meaning of his statement “that correctness consists in each artistic creation having to conform to its model in respect of size and other qualities…” is that anyone who wants to judge a poem or a piece of music correctly must first know what it wants to portray and secondly recognize that thing. Regarding democracy, democracy is derived from two Greek words (people) and (rule). Plato considered democracy to be the rule of ignorant people and believed that in democracy, people lack moderation and justice and are driven by desires and passions.

He also believed that Socrates’ execution was the result of the rule of democracy. Plato criticized the idea that when you’re sick, you don’t gather a crowd to diagnose your illness, but rather you go to a doctor. Therefore, why should we pay attention to the opinion of the majority when it comes to governing?

From Plato’s theory, it can be inferred that he believed that governance should be entrusted to those who possess the necessary qualifications, rather than the opinion of the majority. Therefore, he considered legislation and governance to be the right of philosophers who are aware of rational truths. Plato says, “The greatest principle of all is that no one, whether male or female, should be without a leader, nor should the mind of anyone be habituated to letting him/herself do anything at all on his/her own”. Rather, in war and peace, one is obliged to keep an eye on their leader and follow him/her with loyalty, even in the smallest matters, such as getting up, laughing, washing, or eating, one should be under his/her leadership, and only do so if instructed to do so. In short, one’s own desires must be trained not to even dream of acting independently and become incapable of such actions without approval and guidance.