(c. 429-347 BC)
Plato was born in Athens of an aristocratic family. He recounts in the Seventh Letter, which, if genuine, is part of his autobiography, that the spectacle of the politics of his day brought him to the conclusion that only philosophers could be fit to rule. After the death of Socrates in 399, he travelled extensively. During this period he made his first trip to Sicily, with whose internal politics he became much entangled. He visited Sicily at least three times in all and may have been richly subsidised by Dionysius. On return from Sicily he began formal teaching at what became the Academy.
Plato is generally regarded as the inventor of the philosphical argument as we know it, and many would claim that the depth and range of his thought have never been surpassed.
Plato's fame rests on his Dialogues which are all preserved. They are usually divided in three periods, early, middle, and late. The early dialogues establish the figure of Sokrates, portrayed as endlessly questioning, shattering the false claims of his contemporaries. The middle dialogues are not in dialogue form, and not exhibit the Socratic method. It is the middle dialogues that defend the doctrines commanly thought of as the Platonism. In the late works, especially the last and longest dialogue, the Laws, Plato return to the to the character of the ideal republic in a more sober manner, with civic piety and religion take much of the burden of education away from philosophy.
Last modified August 16, 1995.