- 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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After Socrates’ death, Plato traveled for 12 years throughout the Mediterranean region. He studied mathematics with the Pythagoreans in Italy and geometry, geology, astronomy and religion in Egypt. During this time, or soon after, he began his extensive writing. There is some debate among scholars on the order of these writings,
but most believe they fall into three distinct periods.
The first period occurs during Plato’s travels (399-387 BCE). The Apology of Socrates seems to have been written shortly after Socrates’ death. Other texts in this time period include Protagoras, Euthyphro, Hippias Major and Minor and Ion. In these dialogues, Plato attempts to convey Socrates’ philosophy and teachings.
In the second period, Plato writes in his own voice on the central ideals of justice, courage, wisdom and moderation of the individual and society. The Republic was written during this time with its exploration of just government ruled by philosopher kings.
In the third period, Socrates is relegated to a minor role and Plato takes a closer look at his own early metaphysical ideas. He explores the role of art, including dance, music, drama and architecture, as well as ethics and morality. In his writings on the Theory of Forms, Plato suggests that the world of ideas is the only constant and that the perceived world through our senses is deceptive and changeable.
Sometime around 385 BCE, Plato founded a school of learning, known as the Academy, which he presided over until his death. It is believed the school was located at an enclosed park named for a legendary Athenian hero. The Academy operated until 529 ACE, when it was closed by Roman Emperor Justinian I, who feared it was a source of paganism and a threat to Christianity. Over the years it operated, the Academy’s curriculum included astronomy, biology, mathematics, political theory and philosophy. Plato hoped the Academy would provide a place for future leaders to discover how to build a better government in the Greek city-states.
In 367, Plato was invited by Dion, a friend and disciple, to be the personal tutor of his nephew, Dionysus II, the new ruler of Syracuse (Sicily). Dion believed that Dionysus showed promise as an ideal leader. Plato accepted, hoping the experience would produce a philosopher king. But Dionysius fell far short of expectations and suspected Dion, and later Plato, of conspiring against him. He had Dion exiled and Plato placed under “house arrest.” Eventually, Plato returned to Athens and his Academy. One of his more promising students there was Aristotle, who would take his mentor’s teachings in new directions.
Plato’s final years were spent at the Academy and with his writing. The circumstances surrounding his death are clouded, thought it is fairly certain he died in Athens in 347 BCE, when he was in his early eighties. Some scholars suggest he died while attending a wedding, while others believe he died peacefully in his sleep. Plato’s impact on philosophy and the nature of humans has had a lasting impact far beyond his homeland of Greece. His work covered a broad spectrum of interests and ideas: mathematics, science and nature, morals and political theory. His beliefs on the importance of mathematics in education have proven to be essential for understanding the entire universe. His work on the use of reason to develop a more fair and just society that is focused on the equality of individuals established the foundation for modern democracy.
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