Back To CourseAP World History: Homework Help Resource
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Jeremy teaches high school World History and U.S. History. He has a Bachelor's in History and a Master's in Education.
Plato was a philosopher who was born in Greece somewhere around 428 BCE to a family of the political and social elite. Since Plato was somewhat associated with this group, he had the opportunity to study many different subjects from many different teachers until he famously became a disciple of Socrates. Socrates was executed a few years later in 399 BCE for corrupting the youth and failing to observe the gods. After his death, Plato faithfully continued and adapted his philosophical tradition but never forgot that his teacher died as a result of democratic vote.
In 387 BCE, Plato founded the Academy where people would study a wide variety of subjects from a variety of instructors. Plato believed that this system would lead to social progress and a more stable government. Eventually, one particularly promising student at the Academy by the name of Aristotle became Plato's protégé.
He spent the ensuing years writing and teaching at the Academy until his death in 347 BCE. His ideas eventually became the basis for the Western philosophical tradition.
Plato wrote predominantly in the style of dialogues. The characters in his writings debate a particular subject and examine it from multiple perspectives. Scholars typically organize Plato's works into three different eras: early, middle, and late.
Plato's earlier works tend to focus on lessons directly inherited from his teacher. In fact, Socrates is usually the main character and the subjects usually center on Socrates' lessons. The most famous of the Socratic Dialogues is the Apology in which the character of Socrates defends his beliefs against the charges of the Athenian court.
The next era is referred to as Plato's Middle Period. During this era, the character of Socrates still remains as a fictional vehicle through which to argue philosophical concepts but he starts to recede into the background. Plato's most famous works were written during this time, including the Republic, the Symposium, and Phaedo. He uses these dialogues to explore philosophical concepts such as government, love, and the soul.
In Plato's later years, Socrates receded once again into the background and became a very minor character in these writings. In creative works such as Parmenides and Theaetetus, Plato questions the paradoxes of religion and knowledge.
Since the majority of Plato's work is in the form of dialogues, the reader is often left without a definite conclusion. Instead, the student of Plato's philosophy is encouraged to approach a topic in many different ways and repeatedly question the result. He would often revisit his own central ideas and provide more ways to examine and rethink the given topic. Let's look at some of the major ideas put forth by his dialogues.
In order to understand Plato's central philosophy, you have to understand the Forms. Plato believed that reality is divided into two parts: the ideal and the phenomena. The ideal is the perfect reality of existence. The phenomena are the physical world that we experience; it is a flawed echo of the perfect, ideal model that exists outside of space and time.
Plato calls the perfect ideal the Forms. Let's use a simple model: consider the chair you are sitting in. That chair is an imperfect version of the perfect idea of a chair. All chairs are different versions of this idea striving towards that perfection, though none of them will ever reach it. There is a Form for everything in existence.
In Republic, Plato demonstrates this concept of the Forms in an illustration called The Allegory of the Cave. In Plato's allegory, there is a dark cave in which people have been chained to a wall since birth. Behind the heads of these prisoners, there is a fire burning. Objects are passed in front of this fire and it projects silhouetted images onto the wall in front of the prisoners. The prisoners perceive these shadow objects as reality because they have never known anything else.
Sometimes, a prisoner is freed. They look around the cave and are frightened and confused by their surroundings. They then climb out of the cave in an arduous and painful quest. When they reach the mouth of the cave, they are forced to consider the sun, the world above, and the cave from which they came. This freed prisoner would then be compelled to return to the cave and attempt to free his fellow man.
The prisoners are the common man, dependent on the false reality of phenomenon. The freed prisoner is a philosopher who has stumbled onto the true reality of ideas (the sun, the world above, etc.). The philosopher then attempts to convince his fellow prisoners of the true reality that they cannot see. This model was used to explain the nature of reality (the Forms), the need for education (the climb out of the cave), and the role of the philosopher (the freed prisoner).
Just as Plato believed in a dualist reality (phenomena and ideal), he believed in the dualism of humanity: body and mind. The body is an extension of the false and imperfect reality of phenomena, and it desires earthly pleasures. The mind is the sense of self and it desires an understanding of the Forms.
The soul is the driving force behind body and mind. Plato argues that the soul is eternal and, in his later works, he toys with the idea of the afterlife. He also explains the soul as having three functions - reason, emotion, and desire. These Platonic models greatly impacted a number of other philosophical models in the future. He even adapted his own model of the soul to fit the ideal model of society.
Plato lived through a fairly turbulent era in Ancient Greece that saw back and forth shifts between direct democracy and rule by a small social elite (oligarchy). In Republic, he reveals a deep distrust of democracy; remember that direct democracy killed his beloved teacher, Socrates. However, he also witnessed that the oligarchy that took shape mistreated Greek citizens and only pursued the interests of the wealthy few.
Like the model of the soul, Plato wished for a society made up of three classes: peasants, warriors, and philosopher kings. The peasants supply basic needs (agriculture), the warriors represent the courageous sentiment of society (emotion), and the philosopher kings rule by reason (logic). Just as a good and complete person is ruled by reason, so is the good and stable society. Plato's prized student, Aristotle, would spend much of his philosophical career refining this model of society.
Plato, an Ancient Greek philosopher, founded the Academy, a place of learning and debate. His writings would come to form the basis for the Western philosophical tradition. Much of his work is in the style of dialogue featuring his famous teacher, Socrates. In turn, Plato also mentored a famous philosopher in Aristotle.
Plato believed that reality is an imperfect reflection of a perfect ideal called the Forms. He demonstrates the effect of this dual reality and the need for education in his Allegory of the Cave. Like the dualism of reality, Plato also believed that humans are of a dual nature: body and mind. These two elements drive each person towards different goals but the eternal soul that guides our existence can keep us focused on the perfect ideal rather than earthly imperfection. Likewise, a good society is controlled by reason in the form of the philosopher king, while an imperfect society is guided by the earthly goals of the peasantry.
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Back To CourseAP World History: Homework Help Resource
30 chapters | 414 lessons
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