by Anya Leonard
Plato, however, did write, and he recorded both his and Socrates’ thoughts. He didn’t forget his teacher’s lesson though, and so often composed dialogues that demonstrate the critical process of thinking and questioning, rather than present a definitive, conclusive answer. In this way, Plato encourages us to keep thinking.
As a child, Plato probably would not have envisioned the life he was going to lead. His family’s lot, steeped in aristocracy and influence, was of the political class. His father Ariston supposedly could trace his ancestry to the King of Athens and the King of Messenia. Not to be outshone by her husband, Plato’s mother, Perictione, rubbed shoulders with the likes of Solon, a famous lawyer and lyric poet. In addition, her brother and uncle we part of the thirty tyrants that ruled over Athens after the deafening defeat at the hands of Sparta. Plato was very proud of his distinguished family tree, and often glowingly referred to them in his dialogues.
Considering his family’s affluence and prestige, it is not surprising that Plato received the best education, instructed by the most distinguished teachers at the time. His most influential mentor, of course, was Socrates himself. He met him when he was but a youth. Socrates was considered an ugly man who did not possess much wealth or prominence. He might have been seen as a strange intellectual bedfellow for the well-to-do Plato. However, the old man had a remarkable power of discourse and an ability to bring down the most grandiose of gentlemen.Socrates was Plato’s mentor and became his protagonist. His execution in 399 would have certainly affected the budding boy and shake his confidence in a political system that allowed such a tragedy. The fall of Athens at the end of the Peloponnesian war also would have been a momentous episode in Plato’s life. As well as the ensuing dictatorship which failed miserably due to the inevitable corruption of the 30 chosen oligarchs. It’s no wonder then the quick thinking Plato abandoned the family trade and choose philosopher over politics. It was Socrates, the probing philosopher, who changed Plato’s course to the world of debate, dialogues and discovery. His career, once selected, was very successful. He wrote, traveled, set up an academy dedicated to thinking and questioning. He even tried to shape a dictator in Syracuse to become one of the Philosopher kings. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. And then, as all mortal men do, he died, at the ripe old age of 80. Recognised at the brilliant man he was, forever imparting not only wisdom, but a way of trying to understand the world.
We’ll never know exactly where Socrates ended and Plato began. What ideas, ultimately, belonged to the teacher or to the student? All we can know and be grateful for, is that Plato had the audacity to write them down, so that even now we can continue to question.
Check in in next week for a look at Plato’s Apology. You can view the whole text here beforehand for free: https://classicalwisdom.com/greek_books/apology-by-plato/
Nice recap of Plato’s roots. I do have a bone to pick with the author about this one sentence, though: “so often composed dialogues that demonstrate the critical process of thinking and questioning, rather than present a definitive, conclusive answer.” When I read Plato’s dialogues, they clearly reveal the intended, conclusive answer from the beginning. Indeed, this is the purpose of dialectic. Unless his mentor, who used the Socratic method, encouraging people to think/conclude for themselves, Plato’s approach was to lead the other to a definitive answer: his view of philosophy, his distrust of Democracy, and his ideal of the Philosopher-King is the right one. For me, it is clear where Plato and Socrates separate — the former has an agenda that is grounded in promoting his world view. I do agree with the article’s author, though, in that “Plato encourages us to keep thinking.”
Right on the money. It is said that Socrates was once asked why he never wrote down anything. He is said to have responded: “Knowing nothing, what could I write?” Also, Xenophon’s handling of Socrates varies with Plato’s rendering. Were they listening to the same guy? Or is Bertrand Russell’s criticism of Xenophon correct, when he says that a “stupid man’s report of what a clever man says is never accurate, because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something he can understand.”
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Plato didn’t set up an Academy. He set up “The First Academy”.
Sophisticata–“Plato’s dialogues, they clearly reveal the intended, conclusive answer from the beginning. Indeed, this is the purpose of dialectic. ” ‘Indeed,’ i have the opposite understanding of the purpose of dialectic.
Would like to hear a discussion about Alcibiades, i tend to the opinion that he gets a much worse reputation than he deserves. I could imagine, that part of the reason for this is that he was mixed up in some calamitous disasters for Athens and he was on the wrong side of Socrates, but here was probably a man who should have been king, too brilliant for his time but very much a product of it too, and a good case study of what Plato considered wrong about society.
Dialectic is one of those words which has changed over time. Just like one would need a dictionary from the 1600’s to understand that “Holy Ghost” in the KJV means “Holy Guest” (and not Casper or Charlie Brown hiding under a bed-sheet), a thorough investigation of “dialectic” as it appears in antiquity is necessary before it can be either applied or denied these two great philosophers. Contemporary Dialectic will tell us what “dialectic” is and argue towards it, but Classical Dialectic will explore what it is not in order to clear misconceptions off the participants’ plate and provide a starting point from which to begin the next pursuit. OF COURSE, to confirm or deny such a definition requires a Syntopical study across multiple authors from several centuries, cultures, and continents…
Socrates came from a feminine (pre-greek) culture, his people were the indigenous, the storyteller tradition. Meanwhile God and Plato are still drunk today arguing about who is right.
Philosophy is so luxury but for the reformation thing
Sorry to point this out, but the first image used in this article does not depict Socrates. It is part of Raphael’s famous fresco, “The School of Athens” representing Plato on the left, and Aristotle on the right having a philosophical argument. Plato is pointing toward the heavens, arguing for the spiritual, while Aristotle insists on the physical and observable.
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