18 Dec 2010

Sample Essay: Plato

Plato is one of the great creators of philosophy, writing, the arts, and mathematics. His entire life has been to contributing change in the way we think and communicate. Even though his time has passed the theories he created lives on in legacy. Plato wrote over thirty dialogues expressing the way of life with the teachings of his successor Socrates. With the historical records that have been collected, I will summarize his life and analysis of what I believe to be his key contributions to the way we view the world around us today.

Historical records suggest that the real name of Plato is Aristocles, named after his grandfather. But his wrestling coach gave him the name “Platon” which is famous even till today. According to the historical data, dating from the Alexandrian period, Plato was given the name “Platon”, which means “breadth” due to his vigorous physical appearance. Plato had been instructed in gymnastics, music and grammar by the most distinguished teachers of that time (Platthy). Even before Plato met Socrates he had attended several courses in philosophy. In his philosophy courses he first became acquainted with Cratylus, who was a disciple of Heraclitus a prominent pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, and the Heraclitean doctrines (Kraut).

Plato’s definite birth time and place cannot be determined by the available historical data. But it can be said with certainty that he belonged to an influential and aristocratic family. Based on the historical data, many modern scholars suggest that Plato was either born in Aegina or Athens between the years 429 BC to 423 BC. Plato’s father name was Ariston and his mother’s name was Perictione. A few historical records suggest that Ariston traced his ancestors from Codrus, the king of Athens, and Melanthus, the king of Messenia. On the other hand Plato’s maternal family was famous for their relationship with Solon, the Athenian lawmaker and poet. Ariston and Perictione had two sons; Adeimantus and Glaucon, and a daughter; Potone, other than himself. Potone was the mother of Speusippus who became the successor of Plato as the head of the philosophical Academy (Dillon).

Historical records suggest that the biological father of Plato, Ariston, died in Plato’s childhood but the precise dating of his date cannot be determined. After Ariston’s death Perictione remarried Pyrilampes who was her mother’s brother. Pyrilampes was in himself a very influential man; on numerous occasions he served as an ambassador to the Persian court and he was a personal friend of Pericles; the leader of the Athenian democratic fraction. Although in the Platonic dialogues Plato is silence about himself but he introduced many of his relatives in his dialogues (Clay). As a matter of fact these dialogues are one of the sources from where the family tree of Plato is constructed. The family tree of Plato suggests a considerable amount of family pride. In the opening scenes of the dialogue Charmides, Plato glorifies his family and their deep rooted connections with the most influential personalities of their time (Hare). These dialogues are a memorial to the happier days of his family and Socrates.

Plato traveled in Cyrene, Egypt, Italy and Sicily and returned to Athens when he was forty years old. When he returned to the city of Athens he founded of the earliest known organized schools in Western Civilization. The school was known as Academy and it was a large enclosure of ground which was at one point in time the property of a citizen named Academus. The Academy remained operational until 529 AD when it was closed down by Justinian I of Byzantium. Justinian closed the Academy in an attempt to protect himself because he viewed the Academy as a threat; that it would be used for the propagation of Christian religions. Many intellectuals and numerous great minds of the era were schooled in the Academy. The most prominent of all the students was Aristotle.

Historical records suggest that Plato initially visited Syracuse while it was under the rule of Dionysus. During Plato’s first trip he accepted Dion of Syracuse the brother-in-law of Dionysus, as one of his disciples. But certain events changed all this, Dion turned against Plato; he was sold into slavery and almost died in Cyrene. After sometime an admirer of Plato bought for him his freedom and sent him back to Athens.

Years later Dion himself requested Plato to tutor Dionysus II to become a philosopher king. Plato accepted the offer and started teaching Dionysus II. Dionysus II started to accept Plato’s teaching but he started to detest his uncle, Dionysus. At some point in time he expelled Dion and retained Plato against his will. Eventually Plato managed to leave the Syracuse. In later years Dion returned to Syracuse and deposed Dionysus and usurped his position, shortly after a fellow disciple of Plato usurped the ruling position of Syracuse. Thus Plato was entangled in the political circus of Syracuse throughout the later years of his life (Brumbaugh).

A few central themes can be found in Plato’s work. These central themes serve as the central ideologies which Plato constantly revisits. Almost every work of Plato is, in one way or another, dependent upon his distinction. A majority of which investigate into the ethical and practical consequences of considering of reality in a bifurcated way. Plato’s work compels its readers to transform the values by understanding the reality of Forms and incompetence of the real world. Plato considers, the soul and the object, two completely different things, Plato’s views suggest that the soul does not even depend on the existence of the object itself and its functioning. As a matter of fact a soul can grasp the nature of the Forms when it is unhindered by any of its attachments (Lodge). Furthermore, in a few of his works, he suggests that soul is always able to recollect what it grasped of the Forms once it is disembodies and the lives of the body are either rewards or punishments for the choices which the soul made in the previous existence.

Plato has contributed greatly to the theory of art; particularly in architecture, dance, drama, poetry and music. He also discussed a wide range of philosophical topics encompassing politics, ethics, metaphysics where the topics of focus were man, mind, Realism and immortality. Furthermore he also discussed the philosophies of mathematics and philosophies of religion. According to Plato’s Theory of Forms, he rejected the deceptive and ever changing world which we know of through the use of our sensory proposing. Instead his world of ideas was true. In addition to all of these works Plato talks about geometrical diagrams that they are flawed replication of perfect mathematical objects. Moreover Plato also contributed to the fields of legal philosophy, logic and rhetoric.

Even though Plato did not make any mathematical discoveries himself, he held a strong conviction that mathematics enables us the mind to indulge in the finest training. Plato’s contribution to the philosophies of education can be seen by observing how he ran the Academy. Plato is always determined to work on the idea of “proof”, thus he insisted upon clear and precise definitions and hypotheses. This Platonic approach laid down the fundamentals of Euclid’s systematic approach to mathematics. The historical records suggest that these mathematical guidelines provided by Plato served as a beacon of light for many others. And since almost all of the important mathematical work was completed by either the friends or pupils of Plato this suggests the effectiveness of Plato’s contribution to mathematics.

Plato was able to create a structure or subject matter for philosophy by formulating and arguing over a wide range of metaphysical and ethical questions. To explain the symmetry amongst many objects, he developed metaphysics of Forms. Platonic view regarding the ethical questions is rooted in this metaphysics of Forms via the study of the Form of “good”. Therefore Plato is responsible for finding a linkage between metaphysics and ethics. In his greatest work, the Republic, Plato developed a perceptive analogy between an individual and the state. In his dialogues Plato argues upon the nature of virtues and he also ponders upon several epistemological questions.

Plato is, by any standards of measurement, one of the most recognized writers in the Western literature. He is also undoubtedly the most influential and penetrating authors in the field of philosophy. He was an Athenian citizen of high social status. His prime focus was on the political events and the intellectual engagements of his time but he has raised very profound questions from these events. Furthermore he has also provided richly suggestive answers to such problems, these questions and answer of Plato are so provocative that almost every educated reader in every time period can’t help but to be influenced by Plato and more importantly his philosophies. In almost every age there were many philosophers who called themselves Platonists; this point alone attests to the greatness of Plato’s work.

Although he was not the first scholar who formulated innovative theories but he definitely was the first philosopher whose work and philosophies are based on rigorous and systematic examinations of his surroundings. His philosophies encompasses numerous and diversified field of interest; some of these fields include ethics, politics, metaphysics and epistemological issues, yet his work has proved to be valuable addition to such fields of study. Plato, with his extraordinary work, had created such a place in history which only a few handful other philosophers can contend to.

Work Cited Page

Brumbaugh, Robert Sherrick. Plato for the modern age. University Press of America, 1991.

Clay, Diskin. Platonic questions: dialogues with the silent philosopher. Penn State Press, 2000.

Dillon, John. The Heirs of Plato: A Study of the Old Academy (347-274 BC). Oxford University Press, 2005.

Hare, Richard Mervyn. Plato. Oxford University Press, 1982.

Kraut, Richard. The Cambridge companion to Plato. Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Lodge, Rupert Clendon. The Philosophy of Plato. Routledge, 2000.

Platthy, Jenő. Plato: a critical biography . Federation of International Poetry Associations of UNESCO, 1990.

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