Who was Plato? Plato’s life, Plato’s philosophy, Plato’s Socrates Period, Maturity and Old Age Period, information about Plato.
Plato; Greek philosopher : b. Athens, 428/427 b.c.; d. there, 348/347 b.c. One of the most brilliant figures in the history of Western philosophy, he was the son of Ariston and Perictione, both of whom belonged to old and important Athenian families. His father died when he was young. Perictione remarried, and Plato’s stepfather, Pyrilampes, played an active part in the political and cultural life of the age of Pericles.
With the exception of a few brief interludes, Plato’s biography is uneventful; we find him founding and administering a university, spending his time in research and writing. But no one has ever equaled him in voyages of intellectual discovery and adventure. His idea of philosophy, as the discovery of an unchanging system of reality beyond the shifting appearances of our senses, ordered with mathematical regularity and culminating in the form of the good, established an ideal that Western philosophy has felt ever since that it must either embrace or regretfully destroy.
Plato originally intended to make politics his career. His first opportunity came in the period following the defeat of Athens by Sparta in the protracted Peloponnesian War. In 404 b.c., an interim dictatorship of wealthy Athenians took power with Spartan backing. Plato’s relative, Critias, was a leader of the group, and his uncle, Charmides, was a member. But the arbitrary executions and confiscations that this group engaged in so outraged young Plato that he would not join them. Again he considered entering politics when, in the following year, the democratic faction drove out the dictators and reestablished itself somewhat precariously; but in 399 the democracy tried and executed his older friend, Socrates, whose criticism of their town-meeting democracy seemed to its leaders a clear and present danger. Socrates may not have been, in any strict sense, Plato’s teacher; but he was an old friend of the family, and young Plato admired him greatly. Consequently, Plato gave up his political ambition; he left Athens, visited his friend Euclides in Megara, and began to write philosophic dialogues in vindication of Socrates.
In about 388, Plato visited the court of Di-onysius I, dictator of Syracuse. There seems to have been a strong mutual antipathy; indeed, according to a much later story, which is not improbable, the visit ended with Plato’s deportation, to be sold as a slave in Aegina, and only the timely appearance of a friend with the price of ransom rescued him. On the same trip, Plato visited Archytas, mayor of Tarentum and a brilliant Pythagorean mathematician. Archytas had great confidence in the potentialities of mathematics as a research method both in natural science and in what we would now call social science, though in the latter field no significant applications had then been made.
Convinced of the importance of inquiry, of the promise of mathematics as a tool, and of the interdependence of different fields of knowledge, Plato returned to Athens inspired by the idea of establishing a school for research, which would include all fields of knowledge and explore their systematic interrelation. The result was the Academy, founded in 387, the first university.
In 367, Dionysius I was dead, and his son, Dionysius II, succeeded him as dictator. On the invitation of the young ruler’s uncle, Dion, whom Plato had met on his first visit, he undertook a second Sicilian voyage in 367, with the hope of educating young Dionysius to be a philosophic ruler. The experiment was not a success; while the young king did develop an interest in philosophy, he also suspected Plato and Dion of a conspiracy against him, and both had to leave Syracuse. In 361, Plato returned once more, as a proposed mediator between the two men, Dionysius having imprisoned Dion’s family and confiscated his property. This time again the mission was unsuccessful, and Plato was forced to make his escape. Affairs in Sicily became worse; Dion, with volunteers from the Academy but without Plato’s encouragement, invaded Syracuse and forced Dionysius to flee to Corinth, where he ended his career as a teacher of philosophy. In 354, a year after the successful invasion, Dion was assassinated. It is generally agreed that Plato’s Letter VII and Letter VIII, describing this period, were open letters to answer Athenian criticism of their author for his role in Sicily.
Meanwhile, both the Academy and Plato himself had been stimulated and challenged by the ideas of Eudoxus, who was the greatest genius in mathematics and astronomy of his time, markedly influencing Plato in these areas. In addition, Eudoxus advocated theories in ethics (a rational hedonism) and metaphysics (a doctrine of forms as embedded in a space-time field) that were radically different from the ideas held by Plato, and which Plato was to oppose in the Parmenides and the Philebus.
After a final trip to Sicily, Plato set about constructing a model set of statutes for a Greek colonial city; the Academy had been requested on a number of occasions to give expert help in drawing up such legislation. Carrying out the code in full detail was an extensive enterprise, and Plato was still revising and finishing this project when he died at the age of 80. His nephew, Speusippus, became the owner and next head of the Academy; the school itself continued in operation until 529 a.d.
Later biographers supplement these facts by guess and legend; nor can we depend on the details contained in the 13 letters attributed to Plato. While Letter VII and Letter VIII are now generally accepted as authentic, opinion differs sharply concerning the rest. Some scholars doubt that Plato would have allowed himself to appear in his correspondence in the many characters which these letters reveal.