- NAME: Plato
- OCCUPATION: Philosopher, Writer
- BIRTH DATE: c. 424 BCE
- DEATH DATE: c. 347 BCE
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Athens, Greece
- PLACE OF DEATH: Athens, Greece
- AKA: Aristocles
- AKA: Platon
Best Known For
Ancient Greek philosopher Plato founded the Academy and is the author of philosophical works of unparalleled influence in Western thought.
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Ancient Greek philosopher Plato was the student of Socrates and the teacher of Aristotle. His writings explored justice, beauty and equality, and also contained discussions in aesthetics, political philosophy, theology, cosmology, epistemology and the philosophy of language. Plato was the founder of the Academy in Athens, one of the first institutions of higher learning in the Western world.
"All the gold which is under or upon the earth is not enough to give in exchange for virtue."
"Attention to health is life's greatest hindrance."
"Courage is knowing what not to fear."
"Dictatorship naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme liberty."
"Good actions give strength to ourselves and inspire good actions in others."
Because of the lack of primary sources from the time period, much of Plato’s life has been constructed by scholars through his writings and the writings of contemporaries and classical historians. Traditional history estimates Plato’s birth was around 428 BCE, but more modern scholars, tracing later events in his life, believe he was born between 424 and 423 BCE. Both of his parents came from the Greek aristocracy. Plato’s father, Ariston, descended from the kings of Athens and Messenia. His mother, Perictione, is said to be related to the 6th century BCE Greek statesman Solon. Some scholars believe that Plato was named for his grandfather, Aristocles, following the tradition of the naming the eldest son after the grandfather. But there is no conclusive evidence of this, or that Plato was the eldest son in his family. Other historians claim that “Plato” was a nickname, referring to his broad physical build. This too is possible, although there is record that the name Plato was given to boys before Aristocles was born.
As with many young boys of his social class, Plato was probably taught by some of Athens’ finest educators. The curriculum would have featured the doctrines of Cratylus and Pythagoras as well as Parmenides. These probably helped develop the foundation for Plato’s study of metaphysics (the study of nature) and epistemology (the study of knowledge).
Plato’s father died when he was young, and his mother remarried her uncle, Pyrilampes, a Greek politician and ambassador to Persia. Plato is believed to have had two full brothers, one sister and a half brother, though it is not certain where he falls in the birth order. Often, members of Plato’s family appeared in his dialogues. Historians believe this is an indication of Plato’s pride in his family lineage.
As a young man, Plato experienced two major events that set his course in life. One was meeting the great Greek philosopher Socrates. Socrates’ methods of dialogue and debate impressed Plato so much that he soon he became a close associate and dedicated his life to the question of virtue and the formation of a noble character. The other significant event was the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta, in which Plato served for a brief time between 409 and 404 BCE. The defeat of Athens ended its democracy, which the Spartans replaced with an oligarchy. Two of Plato’s relatives, Charmides and Critias, were prominent figures in the new government, part of the notorious Thirty Tyrants whose brief rule severely reduced the rights of Athenian citizens. After the oligarchy was overthrown and democracy was restored, Plato briefly considered a career in politics, but the execution of Socrates in 399 BCE soured him on this idea and he turned to a life of study and philosophy.
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