gigatos | October 23, 2021
Plato (born 424423 B.C., died 348347 B.C.) was a Greek philosopher, an Athenian, and the founder of the intellectual tradition known as Platonism. He formulated the foundations of idealism and rationalism, and through his literary and pedagogical activities introduced such issues as the theory of the good, the dialectical method, the theory of ideas, the theory of justice, and the mathematical theory of atoms. He created the metaphor of the cave, describing the relation of appearances (the realm of shadows) to the truth (the realm of the sun), which can be discovered only after making a diversion from the shadows and leaving the cave. Plato founded the Academy in Athens, which is sometimes considered the first school of philosophy in Western history. He himself is recognized as the founder of Western political thought, as one of the most important figures in the history of philosophy, science, and spirituality, and as one of the most important thinkers in the entire Western intellectual tradition.
The extent of Plato”s influence is demonstrated by Whitehead”s saying that “the safest general description of the European philosophical tradition is that it constitutes a series of footnotes to Plato.” “Plato is the founder of the Western philosophical tradition in a twofold institutional sense. First, he is the rector of the first university, and thus the initiator of philosophy as an academic activity. Second, he codifies the act by which, as Cicero put it, Socrates brought philosophy down from heaven to earth so that it could walk the streets of human cities.”
Originally Plato took lessons from the Heraclitean Cratylus, then became one of the disciples of Socrates, whom he made the central figure of his works. In his late works he was strongly influenced by Pythagoreanism. His thought represents the synthesizing culmination of the achievements of the first period of Greek philosophy and at the same time opens the classical period, strongly dominated by Plato and his pupil Aristotle of Stagira. Plato”s Academy was the prototype and source of the other great schools: the Peripatetic, Stoic, and Epicurean. His thought has significantly influenced the development of Christian, Islamic and Jewish philosophy and theology, and is the subject of a centuries-long tradition of commentary and research. Plato”s writings have been the subject of interest of philosophers and schools of thought from almost all eras, especially the Medioplatonists, Neoplatonists, Augustine of Hippo, the School of Chartres, the Platonists of Florence and the Humanists, the Romantics and German Idealists, Nietzsche and Heidegger.
The rise in popularity of Plato”s thought and important advances in the study of his texts coincided with major breakthroughs in the history of philosophy and science, particularly during the Italian Renaissance and the German Enlightenment and Romanticism. His metaphor of the cave has been exploited by later philosophy and culture up to 20th century critical theory, human alienation theory, existential discourse of authenticity, psychoanalysis, or even pop culture, as exemplified by films and the work of Bill Hicks. His philosophical dialogue Kratylos is credited with linguistic significance because it addresses the relationship between words and signified content. Plato is sometimes considered the founder of etymology.
Plato is also an outstanding prose writer; the author of philosophical dialogues characterized by high artistry in form and content, in which he included part of his teachings. In addition to the dialogues, he wrote letters, which are one of the main sources on the basis of which his biography is reconstructed. The rest of Plato”s work was transmitted only orally and is therefore referred to as the so-called unwritten teachings. Unlike most works of ancient Greek literature, Plato”s writings have survived into modern times almost intact. They are also the first fully preserved texts of the Western philosophical tradition.
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Childhood and youth
Plato was born in 424423 BC in Athens (in the demos of Kollytos) or on the island of Aegina in the house of Feidiades, son of Thales. Renaissance Platonists celebrated Plato”s birthday on November 7. He was supposed to have been born on the day the Delians believed Apollo was born. The legend even mentions Plato”s birth from a virgin. To his father Ariston, Apollo himself – guardian of the Muses and wisdom – appeared in a dream, which was supposed to keep him from having sexual relations with his wife until the child was born. After the birth, his parents took Plato to Mount Hymettos to make an offering to the gods. As he lay there, bees were said to deposit honey in his mouth, thus fulfilling the prophecy that “from his mouth would flow speech sweeter than honey.”
According to Diogenes Laertios, Plato”s real name, received from his grandfather, is Aristocles. According to the most popular hypothesis, the nickname “Plato” (from Gr. πλατύς, platýs – broad) was given by his gymnastics teacher Ariston of Agros or one of his fellow pupils and referred to his athletic physique – broad forehead and back. Other ideas say that the nickname originated from the richness and slurred speech. Deborah Nails, however, determined from a surviving list of Aegean inhabitants that he was listed on it as Plato, son of Ariston, of Kollytos (Πλάτων Ἀριστωνος Κολλυτεύς, Platōn Aristōnos Kollyteus).
His father, Ariston, came from a prominent Athenian family of descendants of King Kodros, while his mother Periktione was descended from the family of Solon. The aristocratic background of Plato”s family guided his political views and enabled him to undertake an expensive education.
Plato had a total of four siblings:
Plato received a careful upbringing and education under the tutelage of the most important sophists of his time. In 5th century BC Athens, there were no schools in the modern sense, and children were sent to teachers under the care of an educator (gr. paidagogos – guiding children). Plato”s education was in accordance with the Greek principles of the time, and was based on shaping the harmony of spirit and body (the so-called kalokagathia), and thus included both learning and physical development. He was taught the beginnings of grammar by Dionysus, while music was taught by Drakon of Athens and Metellaos of Akragant. Plato began his philosophical studies under Cratylus, who introduced him to Heraclitean views. He was also educated in painting.
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When Plato finished taking lessons from Cratylus, his father entrusted him to a new teacher, Socrates. In connection with this event Diogenes Laertios gives the following story:
They tell that Socrates once had a dream that he held a young swan in his lap, which immediately grew wings and took to the air with a beautiful song. The next day Plato was presented to him. Socrates is said to have told him that the bird was Plato.
Apuleius adds that this swan, after being blown up, landed on an altar dedicated to Eros. And when it was presented to Socrates by Plato (who was to be brought by his father, Ariston, to give his son an education), the latter replied: “Here, friends, is that swan of Cupid”s from the Academy”. Plato then spent 8 years with Socrates until his teacher”s death in 399 BC. Socrates” views had a significant influence on Plato”s philosophical thought. He is considered the most prominent student of Socrates.
After the death of his teacher, Plato stayed in Athens for a short time, and then took refuge with one of Socrates” disciples, Euclid in Megara, to avoid the persecution suffered by Socrates” students in Athens. For the next 12 years he was to travel in Africa, Italy, Egypt and Greater Greece. With Euripides, he made a trip to Egypt, “to the priests and prophets,” during which he became acquainted “with the ways of augury,” and, according to Guarino Guarini, “from the priests and soothsayers of Memphis he learned about the risings and sunsets of the stars , about their movements and their various activities, he learned the secrets of divine matters, and the principles of numbers and measures,” and “it was there and then that Plato learned with the help of some interpreter what our prophets had foretold, and thus touched upon the knowledge of the true God.” While in Italy he came into contact with the Pythagoreans. Eurytos and Archytas, who belonged to their circle, taught Plato mathematics. The acquaintance with Archytas is also confirmed by Plato”s letters: VII, IX and XII. Among the philosophers he met in southern Italy is Timaeus of Locrea, who later became the title character of the dialogue Timaeus. He had also intended to travel “to the country of the Indes and to the Magi,” i.e., the Zoroastrians in Persia, who “were engaged in the study of divine matters, taught the principles and rites of vows, sacrifices, propitiation to the gods, explained their nature and origin, and indulged in disputes on what is just and what is godly,” but this intention was thwarted by the war.
Of Plato”s travels, his three trips to Sicily are particularly momentous, which Apuleius calls “unfortunate” because of his failed political engagement, a paradigmatic example of the philosopher”s disastrous foray into politics, compared contemporarily to Heidegger”s support of Nazism. In 388 BC or 387 BC, he first visited Sicily for scientific purposes, “to learn the nature of Etna and the flames inside the volcano.” There he met Dion, who was the son-in-law of the ruler of Syracuse, Dionysius I. Dion became a disciple and friend of Plato, with whom he then wanted to persuade Dionysius I to the idea of a philosopher king. This attempt was unsuccessful, and there was a dispute between Plato and the ruler. As a result, Dionysius I ordered Pollis, who was the ambassador of Sparta in Aegina, to sell the philosopher into slavery. Plato, however, was ransomed by Annikeris of Cyrene. Marsilio Ficino describes this episode in Plato”s life as follows:
Dionysius, the son of Hermocrates, forced him to talk. Plato, speaking to him about tyranny, said that it is not good that which, while being beneficial to him, is not also a manifestation of virtue. Offended and angered, the tyrant said to him thus: “Your words are the talk of an unnecessary old man”; to which Plato replied: “And yours trump tyranny.” The insulted tyrant at first wished to kill him, but then, beguiled by Dion and Aristomenes, he desisted, and instead gave Plato to Pollis of Sparta, who was then a deputy, to sell him. Pollis took Plato to Aegina and sold him there. Then Charmandros wanted to sentence him to death, because according to the long-established law the capital punishment was threatened to an Athenian who would come to the island. But when someone said that Plato had come here as a trained philosopher, and that the law said this about the people and not about philosophers who were above the people, the Aeginites freed him from punishment and decided to sell rather than kill him. By chance, Annikeris of Cyrene then appeared, who redeemed Plato for twenty minas and sent him back to his friends in Athens.
After returning to Athens in 387 BC. Plato established a school in the northwestern part of the city, where he lived and taught free of charge. It was located in a grove dedicated to the Athenian hero Akademos or Hekademos, after whom it was named: the Academy. This school existed until 529 AD, when it was abolished by the Byzantine emperor Justinian. For nearly 1000 years of its existence, the Academy was an important center of learning in the Hellenistic world.
Despite the bad experience of his first trip to Sicily, Plato went there a second time in 366 BC. For Dionysius I had died and was succeeded by his son, Dionysius II, who, according to Dion”s information, was supposed to be sympathetic to Plato”s teachings. Dionysius II, however, turned out to be of the same ilk as his father. He accused Dion of conspiracy and sentenced him to exile, and as for Plato, he tried to win his favor even though he showed little interest in the study of philosophy. Syracuse”s involvement in the war, however, caused Dionysius II to allow Plato to return to Athens.
In 361 BC. Plato went for the third time to Sicily, accepting the invitation of Dionysius II, who wanted to reconcile with him and complete his philosophical preparation. Again, however, there were disagreements between the ruler and the philosopher. Plato was saved from the danger in Syracuse by Archytas, who arranged for the philosopher”s safe transportation to Greece. In 360 BC. Plato returned to Athens.
Plato at the end of his life enjoyed a wide popularity among the Greeks that was not limited to his native Athens. According to Ficino, when Plato went to watch the Olympic Games after returning from a trip to Sicily:
Many went there to meet him with such joy that it seemed as if a god from heaven had descended to mortals. The spectators abandoned the games, the displays of athletes and wrestlers, and – amazingly – those who, having crossed distant lands and seas, found themselves in Olympia to delight their eyes, ears and senses, forgot their desires, came to Plato and admired him. They felt at Plato”s side as if in a secluded inn.
This popularity, however, did not translate into an equally widespread understanding of Plato”s thought, as exemplified by the audience”s reaction to the lecture on the good:
Aristotle constantly told of what most of those who listened to Plato”s lecture On the Good (περὶ τἀγαθοῦ, Peri tagathou) experienced. For each one of them came presuming to learn something about those goods recognized by men, such as wealth, health, strength, or in general some glorious happiness. But when the deductions turned out to be about the mathematical sciences, about numbers, geometry, and astronomy, together with the conclusion that the Good is One (ἀγαθόν ἐστιν ἕν), it entirely, I think, seemed to them a sort of paradox. Some then despised the object, others condemned it.
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Plato died in the year 348347 BC, the year of the one hundred and eighth Olympiad.
There are many accounts of the circumstances of his death. Diogenes Laertios claims that he died of lice on his eighty-first birthday, during a wedding feast. According to other accounts, Plato died while listening to music or sleeping. “Under the pillow of the bed on which he died, no ”Bible” was found, nothing Egyptian, Pythagorean, Platonic – but Aristophanes”. Cicero, on the other hand, states that Plato died while writing. He left behind an unfinished work, the Epinomis, published after his death based on notes left behind by Philip of Opunt. He was buried at the Academy, and was escorted to his resting place by a crowd of people, and his grave was inscribed:
With wisdom and good manners the one who lies here, the divine son of Ariston, has risen above mortals.
His death was followed by such works of praise as The Feast after the Funeral of Plato by Speusippus (his nephew) and The Praise of Plato by Klearchos. Speusippus praises “the penetrating and incisive reason displayed by him while still a boy, as well as his admirable innate modesty; the first spiritual fruits of Plato”s adolescence, imbued with his diligence and love of study; the germs of these and other virtues germinated perfectly in the now mature man” Aristotle also composed a eulogy and elegy on Plato, and erected an altar and statue to Plato, on which he wrote: “Aristotle has erected this altar to Plato, a man whom it is unworthy for poor men to praise”. A testament left by Plato has survived:
“Here is what Plato left and how he disposed of it. The property in Iphistiades is not to be sold or given to anyone; let it be owned, as long as possible, by young Adeimantos. The servant Artemis is freed. Tikhon, Biktas, Apolloniades and Dionysius I leave as domestic servants. The household goods are inventoried, and Demetrios has a copy of the inventory. I owe nothing to anyone. The executors of the will will be Leosthenes, Speuzipus, Demetrios, Hegias, Eurymedon, Callimachus, and Trazippos.
He also left behind many disciples, including. Speusippus, who became his first successor at the Academy, Xenocrates of Chalcedon, Aristotle of Stagira, who after twenty years of study at the Academy founded his own school, the Lyceum, Philip of Opunt, Hestiaios of Perinta, Dion of Syracuse, Amyklos of Heraclea, Erastos and Koristos of Skepsis, Timolaos of Kyzikos, Euaion of Lampsak, Python and Heraclides of Ainos, Hippotales and Kallippos of Athens, Demetrios of Amphipolis, Heraclids of Pontus, and two women: Lasteneia of Mantinea and Axiothea of Phliunto.
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List of works and their authenticity
Plato”s writings, which include 35 dialogues and Letters, were grouped by ancient philologists into nine tetralogies (this division is usually attributed to Thrasyllus):
As Diogenes Laertios wrote:
“All the authentic dialogues of Plato – according to Thrasyllus – number fifty-six if the State is counted as ten dialogues, and the Laws as twelve. On the other hand, there are nine tetralogies, if we treat the State as one work and the Laws as one work. The ninth tetralogy consists of the following: the Minos or On Laws, a political dialogue, the Laws or On Legislation, a political dialogue, the Appendix to the Laws or The Night Assembly or The Philosopher, a political dialogue, and, as the last part, thirteen letters.
Researchers disagree on the authorship of the dialogues: Alkibiades I, Cleophon, Menexenos. The dialogues Alkibiades II, Epinomis, Hipparchus, Minos, Rivals, and Kingfisher are considered falsely attributed.
The oldest comprehensive manuscript containing about half of the dialogues is the manuscript of MS. E. D. Clarke 39 dating from 895. The standard version of the edition of Plato”s works was given in the sixteenth century. Henri Estienne (Henricus Stephanus). It serves as the primary reference for later editions of Plato.
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It is the generally accepted custom to quote Plato according to the pagination of Stephanus. All modern editions of Plato give it in the margin. The division of the page into 5 sections (a-e), given by this publisher, defined the way of standard citation of dialogues. Places in the text are given according to the scheme: the title of the dialogue, the page number and the section in the Stephanus edition, e.g. State 522b, or Gorgias 493a. When translations are cited, the name of the translator must also be given, which allows for precise identification of the quotation.
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A long and rich tradition of research into the chronology of Plato”s dialogues was started by a thorough study by Lewis Campbell, the creator of the stylometric method used by later generations of scholars. In Poland this method is known primarily thanks to Wincenty Lutosławski, author of the monumental work The Origin and Growth of Plato”s Logic. Most scholars of the chronology of dialogues accepted the division into three groups – early, middle and late dialogues. The main subject of this discussion was the assignment of individual dialogues to one of the indicated periods of Plato”s work. Nowadays, the intensity of research on chronology is waning due to growing skepticism about the possibility of achieving reliable results. The main achievement of the tradition of research on the chronology of dialogues is, therefore, not so much the precise determination of the time of the creation of individual works, but primarily the establishment of certain general tendencies in the development of the style of Plato”s writings. W.K.C. Guthrie describes these tendencies as follows:
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The problem of interpretation
Plato”s dialogues pose a challenge to interpreters because Plato does not explicitly state his views in them, and the conversations presented often end in a lack of conclusion, an aporia. They allow for a number of different interpretations, so even after Plato”s death, the Academy he founded argued about key issues, which the dialogues themselves do not resolve. The interpretation of Plato”s earliest disciples, Aristotle, Speusippus, and Xenocrates, emerged, and then polarized into dogmatists and skeptics in the Academy of Arkesylus. The Neoplatonic interpretation (Albino, Plotinus, Jamblich, Proklos, Marsilio Ficino), on the other hand, dominated the following centuries and read Plato in an allegorical and metaphysical way. With Friedrich Schleiermacher”s formulation in the early nineteenth century of the traditional paradigm, i.e., interpretation based only on the dialogues, a period of different types of research on his philosophy begins. Schleiermacher assumed in advance a system of Plato”s thought that manifested itself entirely in their form and content, hence many scholars sought such a system. There were also those who rejected the coherence of Plato”s thought and even emphasized his incompetence in the field of logic. Another interpretive proposal became genetic, seeking to understand Plato”s philosophy in a gradual development or reading of basic concepts.
There were also attempts to incorporate the indirect tradition into the interpretation of the dialogues, especially Aristotle”s messages. A peculiar position was the narrowing of Platonic philosophy to the unwritten theory of ideal numbers and the recognition of Socrates as the author of the theory of ideas. Ultimately, however, this led to an esoteric interpretation, according to which the keystone of Plato”s philosophy lies outside his writings and theory of ideas, in the so-called protology, reconstructed on the basis of indirect tradition. The opposition interpretation was advocated by anti-esotericists, and intermediate positions were taken by many other scholars. Plato is also read from various perspectives, e.g. neo-Kantian (Marburg School), analytic, semantic. His thought is also interpreted by creating commentaries to each of his dialogues or through the prism of selected issues. A separate issue is the reception of Platonism throughout the centuries.
Already Diogenes Laertios was aware of the hermeneutical difficulties involved in interpreting Plato:
“there is a great dispute about whether Plato is a dogmatist . Plato expresses his judgments about things that he himself has grasped, he rejects things that are untrue, and in things that are uncertain he abstains from judgment. He expresses his judgments through the mouth of four people: Socrates, Timaeus, a visitor from Athens, and a visitor from Elea. These strangers are not, as some thought, Plato and Parmenides, but imaginary, nameless characters.
Marsilio Ficino, a Renaissance Platonist, divided Plato”s statements into negative (undermining) and positive ones, the latter into probable and certain ones: “There are three types of Plato”s dialogues: either he throws Sophists off guard, or he admonishes young men, or he teaches mature ones. What Plato says with his mouth in the Laws, Epinomis, and Epistles, we are led to believe to be the most certain. And what Socrates, Timaeus, Parmenides and Zenon say in the other dialogues, he wants us to regard as probable.” According to Friedrich Schleiermacher, Plato”s dialogues provide a sufficient basis for reconstructing Plato”s philosophy. Hegelian John Niemeyer Findlay disputes this view, arguing that Plato”s dialogues “point beyond themselves and without going beyond the dialogues it is impossible to understand them.” As Vittorio Hösle points out, a lack of hermeneutical detachment – that is, an overly literal interpretation of the content of the dialogues insensitive to various nuances and ambiguities – leads to a dogmatic interpretation of Platonism as found in textbook-like, simplistic, schematic, and didactic interpretations of Plato”s doctrine, which he considers an unacceptable interpretive procedure. An example of this approach is Alkinoos”s Lecture on Plato”s Teachings (Didaskalikos ton Platonos dogmaton), who, as a result of his hermeneutical naivete, “wrote a textbook without realizing that he was introducing extraneous elements, convinced that he was merely presenting Platonism.” Karl Kerényi argues that Plato himself created no system. Friedrich Schlegel, on the other hand, suggests that Plato was an unsystematic philosopher because “his thought did not reach the stage of fulfillment.” According to Julia Annas, “Plato attempts to stimulate thought rather than to convey doctrine”.
The statements cited above thus indicate that there is a tension between the open structure of the dialogues, which for this very reason require interpretation, and the dogmatic closure implicit in the recognition that Plato”s works form a system. As John Niemeyer Findlay argues, however, Plato”s interpretation is not entirely arbitrary, and some systematizations of Platonism, notably Ammonios Sakkas”s doctrine of the three hypostases and Plotinus, represent “what any discerning interpreter should arrive at.” Lloyd Gerson also argues that there is no system to be found in Plato”s dialogues, but this does not mean that they can be filled with entirely arbitrary content, for Plato explicitly rejects monism, materialism, and a dualistic theory of ideas, with the result that “the tent of Platonism is not infinitely large, and from a modern perspective it may even seem too small for anyone to fit inside. Gerson then distinguishes five negative determinants of Platonism: antimaterialism, antimechanicalism, antinominalism, anti-relativism, and antiscepticism. At the same time he finds in Plato also a positive dimension: the universe is characterized by a systematic, hierarchical unity, of which man is a part, the category of the divine and the psyche is inalienable when explaining it, and happiness is the result of taking the lost position in the hierarchy. Kerényi gives five distinctions of Platonism: the theory of ideas, anamnesis, philosophical eroticism, the theory of two worlds, and the supreme position of the good. Matthias Baltes, on the other hand, believes that the essence of Platonism is five dogmas: the dogma of freedom of the soul, the dogma of the eternity of the world, the dogma of metempsychosis, the dogma of the hierarchy of realities, and the dogma of the metaphysics of ideas. As Heinrich Dörrie argues, early Platonism was characterized by disputes over whether the whole soul is immortal or only part of it, whether ideas are part of the divine intellect or not, whether the universe was created at one moment or not, and whether or not evil should be identified with matter or absence. Thomas Taylor, a neoplatonist active in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, defined Platonism in 22 dogmas (the Platonic Creed), the first of which reads, “I believe in one first cause of all things, whose nature is infinitely transcendent and utterly beyond all finite speculation; which is supersubstantial, supra-living, supra-sensible; which cannot be truly named, spoken of, comprehended by thought or imagination.” From the perspective of modern hermeneutics, dogmatic interpretations are considered methodologically naïve, and an interpretation based on Plato”s own text is favored (so-called close reading), which on the one hand reduces, as much as possible, the prior assumptions of the subject (in a Socratic fashion, starting from ignorance), and on the other hand is based on the Protestant principle of scriptural autarky (Sola scriptura). An example of this approach is the method used in Heidegger”s seminars, where “no theory of ideas was taught, but a single dialogue was dealt with for an entire semester, analyzed step by step, until finally the venerable doctrine disappeared, giving way to a set of problems of immediate and urgent importance.
Plato acquired his philosophical knowledge primarily through oral transmission. His teachers included the philosophers Kratylos (a student of Heraclitus) and Socrates, the mathematicians Euclid and Theodore of Cyrene, and the Pythagorean philosophers and mathematicians Philolaos, Eurytos, and Archytas. Sophists were also an important point of reference for Plato, from whom he, like Socrates, wanted to distinguish himself fundamentally. Plato also drew on written sources, because, as ancient accounts state, he was to acquire from Philolaos three books containing the written teachings of the Pythagoreans, from whom “Plato drew his theology”. He also drew from religious sources: Egyptian, but above all Greek. In addition, Apolline motifs appear very frequently in his dialogues, as well as references to the Eleusinian mysteries, the Dionysian mysteries, and the mysteries of the Thracian goddess Bendis. In addition, Plato was strongly influenced by the works of Greek poets: Hesiod, Homer, and the lyric poets, especially Pindar.
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Although there is no doubt about the significant influence of Socrates on Plato, nevertheless, in which specific area of philosophical reflection this influence manifested itself is the subject of controversy, which is closely related to the problem of reconstructing the authentic views of Socrates. Although Socrates himself did not leave behind any texts, already in antiquity there was a rich literary tradition of Socratic writings by his disciples and followers, among which the writings of Xenophon and dialogues of Plato have survived until our times. There are clear differences between the portrayal of Socrates in Xenophon and Plato. Xenophon”s Socrates, in contrast to Plato”s, does not oppose the law of the talion, nor does he deal with the theory of virtues, but rather with general moral guidelines, while in Apology according to Xenophon he accepts the death sentence not out of loyalty to the civic duty of a philosopher, but in order to avoid the physical discomforts of old age. The difficulty of reconstructing the philosophy of Socrates is also exacerbated by the variety of views held by his disciples, who often took positions clearly different from Plato”s, yet claiming the right to be Socratics to the same degree as Plato himself. Among the most prominent were Antisthenes, founder of the Cynic school, Aristippus, founder of the hedonistic Cyrenaic school, and Euclid of Megara, founder of the Megarean school.
Socrates is the main speaker in almost all of Plato”s dialogues (the exceptions being “Sophist,” “Politics,” “Timaeus,” and “Laws”). For this reason, the question of determining which of the views uttered by Socrates are his own and which are strictly Platonic views remains a matter of dispute among scholars. In general, skepsis, dialectics, and a program of logos-seeking and conceptual clarification associated with Socrates” youthful disillusionment with Ionian natural philosophy are assumed to be Socratic elements. The aforementioned elements, as well as irony, majeutics, elenchos, and aporetics, undoubtedly had a strong influence on the literary form of the Platonic dialogues, which can be seen above all in the dialogues traditionally regarded as early, characterized by a much stronger dramatic element than later dialogues.
In the philosophical tradition – also in some currents of Platonism – serious doubts were articulated about the continuity of views between Socrates and Plato. Already in Medioplatonism the most important precursor of Platonic teaching was considered not Socrates, but Pythagoras. This view was maintained and developed by the Neoplatonists. In modern philosophy such a position was emphatically expressed by Friedrich Nietzsche, who claimed that the Platonic philosophy of politics is devoid of the Socratic spirit of a free discussion of equal citizens in the agora, but it is characterized by Pythagorean elitism and deep pessimism. In the twentieth century, this interpretive tradition was continued primarily by Leo Strauss and his disciples, developing the Nietzschean theory of the noble lie – and thus interpreting Plato”s philosophy of politics as de facto opposed to Socrates” political practice. The view of the correspondence between Socrates and Plato, however, found many defenders, and one of the most important 20th century philosophers who maintained it was the neo-Kantian Paul Natorp, who regarded Plato as “the truest Socratic. According to Natorp, Plato develops and overcomes the Socratic paradigm without negating it:
“Plato did not want to remain a prisoner of the learned Socratic formulas; nor did he want to continue Socratic thought as non-Socratically as others had done. But it was in this liberation from the formulas of Socratic thought that Plato discovered their deepest content, in order then to deepen it still further.”
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Heraclitus and Parmenides
Heraclitean philosophy influenced Plato through his first teacher, Cratylus, who represented a radicalized and extremely skeptical Heracliteanism. Heraclitus”s views certainly influenced Plato”s epistemology and ontology, especially the belief in the impossibility of cognition relating to sense objects and the crystallization of the division between being and becoming. Aristotle, describing the sources of Plato”s theory of ideas, mentions as one of them the Heraclitean concept of eternal flow, whose radical version handed down by Cratylus – together with the Socratic quest for logos – led Plato to believe that the domain of certain cognition and true being lies beyond sensual reality.
Parmenides of Elea, considered the founder of ontology, strongly influenced Platonic metaphysics, theory of ideas, and theory of cognition. The Parmenidean dualism of being and non-being and the epistemological division between the way of truth and the way of opinion, expressed in the poem “On Nature,” is reflected in the Platonic division between being and becoming and between knowledge and opinion. In the “Sophist,” however, Plato commits the “patricide” of Parmenides by making an attempt to adjudicate non-being, thus transgressing the prohibition expressed by Eleata. The dualistic aspect of Plato”s ontology is not as radical as Parmenides”, for being is not opposed to non-being, but to becoming, which does not have such unambiguously negative characteristics as non-being. On the other hand, in the dialogue named after Parmenides himself, Plato performs the most radical critique of the theory of ideas, formulating, among other things, the famous argument from the “third man”. According to Adam Krokiewicz, due to the fact that the dialogues considered later than Parmenides” are distinguished by reducing the role of Socrates in favour of other speakers, Plato”s self-criticism is supposed to concern the attribution of his own immature doctrine to his master, which was to become the subject of criticism of other Socratics.
The influence of the metaphorical poem of Parmenides is evident in the fragments of “Phaedrus” and “The Feast”. The philosopher passes on the wisdom imparted to him by the goddess, to whom he enters carrying a horse-drawn chariot. Similarly, in the Phaedrus, the soul, likened to a chariot, ascends to a place in the sky to see ideas, while in the Feast Socrates is led towards ideas by a female priestess, Diotyma, as in Parmenides.
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Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans
Already in antiquity there appeared a view of Plato”s strong dependence on Pythagoras; its influence increased especially in the period of Medioplatonism; its most important exponents were the Neo-Pythagoreans, especially Numenius of Apamea; it is also attested by Cicero, who stated that Plato “took over all the main views of the Pythagoreans”. An important source for this view is the statement appearing in Aristotle”s Metaphysics that the philosophy of Pythagoras and Plato are fundamentally compatible. The Pythagoreans certainly influenced Plato during his trip to Italy, which dates back to 387 BC; of particular importance was his acquaintance, attested in his letters, with Archytas of Taranto, who is speculated to have been the prototype of the title character of the dialogue “Timaeus”. Also in the “Phaedo” appear Philolaos and Echekrates, characters bearing the names of historical Pythagoreans contemporary to the author.
However, the view of Plato”s strong dependence on the Pythagoreans, characteristic of Medio- and Neoplatonism, has been increasingly questioned in modern scholarship, especially the relatively few direct references to Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans in the texts of the dialogues and their moderately affirmative character. Rather, references from the State – including the only one referring to Pythagoras by name – indicate Plato”s sympathy and respect for the philosopher from Samos and his disciples, but are not as unambiguously affirmative as those concerning Parmenides, referred to as “the father.”
The most important themes in Plato”s thought that have Pythagorean origins or are related to Pythagorean philosophy are 1) the wandering of souls, 2) the dependence of the physical world on the mathematical world, and 3) elitism in political philosophy. Although each of the aforementioned problem areas is discussed at length in the pages of the dialogues, there are solid grounds for arguing that in each of them Plato does indeed depart from the Pythagorean views, often questioning them.
Plato”s and the Pythagoreans” concept of 1) the wandering of souls comes from the Orphics, and as such testifies more to the fact that the author of the dialogues was influenced by the same Orphic mystical-religious currents as the Pythagoreans, than to the fact that he took it over directly from them. Moreover, in the “Phaedo” the Pythagorean theory of the soul as harmony is subjected to deep criticism. On the other hand, 2) the cosmology presented in the “Timaeus” differs significantly from the Pythagorean one: Plato”s cosmos has a boundary – unlike that of Archytas – and the earth, though, like that of Philolaus, has the shape of a sphere, does not revolve around a central fire, but continues in the middle of the universe. On the other hand, 3) the dependence of the physical world on the mathematical world is not as direct in Plato”s work as it was in the Pythagoreans”, who identified numbers with particular qualities or elements present in the sensual world. Plato develops a much more complex theory according to which various elements – types of matter – are composed of atoms shaped like regular polyhedrons, i.e. mathematical objects. Plato”s political philosophy, especially the “State,” is often associated with the historically attested extreme elitist political practice of the Pythagoreans. However, there are legitimate doubts about the legitimacy of a literal interpretation of the “State”. Their main exponent remains Leo Strauss, who emphasizes in his works the ambivalent character of the dialogue and its propaedeutic nature – the Platonic “State” should not be interpreted as a serious political project, but as an exercise in dialectical thinking about politics, exposing all its dangers and ambivalences.
The aspect of Plato”s philosophy most closely associated with Pythagoreanism is considered to be the so-called theory of principles, which is the subject of the unwritten sciences and was intensively developed by Platonists of later eras, beginning with the Old Academy. Probably not coincidentally, it was these same ancient Platonists, focused on the theory of principles, who over time increasingly emphasized Plato”s Pythagoreanism, downplaying the influence of Socrates. The lack of controversy over the Pythagorean sources of the theory of principles is due in part precisely to its absence from the dialogues – to the lack of direct references to it in the Corpus Platonicum, which could be the subject of historical-philosophical analysis, and also to its non-involvement in the thoroughly ambivalent literary form of the dialogue, which provokes various interpretive controversies over the author”s actual attitude to the views and figures he discusses.
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The time of Plato”s youth coincided with the period of intense activity of the sophist movement, with which his teacher Socrates was also associated by outsiders, the most famous testimony of which is Aristophanes” “Clouds”. The most significant difference between the sophists and previous Greek philosophy was their strong anthropocentrism, unprecedented in earlier thinkers dealing with the problems of nature, arche and being. Their activity was strongly determined by the new social context resulting from the weakening of the previous Greek aristocracy as a consequence of the wealth of the poleis and the appearance of new aspiring social groups, whose representatives gained the opportunity to hold office in Athens thanks to the edict of Ephialtes and Pericles in 458 BC. The processes of democratization took place, thanks to which the part of society participating in civic life and striving to defend its interests in the agora increased, which required training in rhetorical skills. In this context Sophists emerged, who as itinerant paid teachers met the demand for education necessary for participation in social and economic life. The mercenary nature of their activity forced them to adapt their educational program to their clientele, which exposed them to the criticism of conservative circles accustomed to traditional aristocratic education, especially representatives of old comedy.
The popular belief, strengthened by tradition, that Plato and Socrates had a strong conflict with the sophists can be maintained only at a high level of generality. The analysis of the content of the dialogues leads to the conclusion that although Plato generally disagreed with Socrates on fundamental issues, he took up most of the issues introduced by Socrates and creatively worked on them. For example, the problem of the unity of the virtues and the possibility of teaching them – Plato agrees with the sophists that virtues can be taught, but he believes that this is achieved by a different way than that indicated by sophists. Other issues taken over by Plato, characteristic of sophism, include the problem of the dichotomy of nomos and physis – convention and nature – in the horizon of the question about the sources of laws, as well as the problem of rhetoric and literature in education and social life.
In the dialogue “Protagoras”, describing a conversation in the house of Kallias, Plato presents a rather ironic collective portrait of his contemporary sophists. It is significant that the title character is not presented in a negative way, one can even speak of a certain kindness of the author towards his person. Protagoras” claim that “man is the measure” (its development is a variant of the Promethean myth presented by Protagoras, according to which man, unable to survive only thanks to his natural conditions, receives from Prometheus various arts (technai), the cultivation of which is supposed to enable him to survive. Deprived of any non-human point of reference, alienated from nature, man is only able to survive thanks to an institutionalized culture, understood as the cultivation of virtues. This view would later return as central to philosophical anthropology as Johann Gottfried Herder”s concept of man as Mängelwesen (a being marked by lack).
Protagoras” maxim is countered by Plato with a clever yet ambivalent statement that “god is measure” (theos metron). (theos metron). God as the measure and the key to achieving harmony of the soul is then the essence of the social order presented in the “Laws,” Plato”s final dialogue. However, given the ambiguity of Plato”s views on deity and the lack of any systematized theology in the Greek world at the time, the concept of god as measure seems far from obvious, which has given rise to interpretations as radical as the Nietzschean theory of the “noble lie.” Confrontations between Plato”s Socrates and the sophists Kallikles and Thrasymachus, representatives of extreme immoralism, are crucial for this type of interpretation. It is the high dramatic tension of these passages that gives rise to the image of the sophist as an adversary of Plato and Socrates; the representativeness of the views of Kallikles and Trajymachus to the Sophist movement as a whole, however, is quite questionable, and Plato”s attitude toward their characters should not be interpreted as identical to Plato”s attitude toward the sophists. Regardless of hypotheses about the exact nature of this relationship, the fact of the profound influence of sophistry on the thought of the author of the dialogues remains undeniable, as well as the fact that by addressing the problems articulated by the sophists, Plato elevates them above the pedagogical-practical discourse dominant among the sophists, making them the subject of philosophical speculation.
In antiquity there was a view that Plato was not the first Platonist, and that Platonism is something beyond Plato himself, and not only by later traditions, which develop and interpret his views. Olympiodorus (“all men turn to Plato”s philosophy because they want to benefit from it, to be enchanted by the water from his fountain, to quench their thirst for knowledge with his inspiration”) Emerson (“everything that thinkers still write and discuss today comes from Plato. Plato is philosophy, philosophy is Plato”) and Whitehead (“the European philosophical tradition is a series of footnotes to Plato”). Whitehead then writes:
“I am not referring to the systematic pattern of thought that scholars have dubiously extracted from his writings. I refer to the general richness of thought scattered throughout his writings of the heritage of an intellectual tradition that has not yet been stiffened by excessive systematization. If we were to adopt Plato”s point of view, minimizing the modifications made necessary by the two thousand years separating us from him, we should proceed to construct a philosophy of the organism.
This organism, however, is not supposed to be just an abstract model, but something actually existing that appears to the mind in the form of an idea. This is confirmed by Philip K. Dick, who described a visionary experience in his diary:
“I have seen Platonic ideas, there were very many of them, he was right: what we see here is only a copy, not the real source entity . They are not something static, but pulsate with energy and life. It was as if the veil of the world had been torn away, the veil covering it, and I saw the world as it really is, I saw something that was real now and always literally beyond time and space. What I saw was not static or unchanging in opposition to change, but was an amazingly alive and powerful total organism in which everything was interconnected and nothing was excluded from it, at the same time controlling through an elaborate system everything that is, was and will be.”
Walter Pater takes a similar view:
Platonism is in a certain sense a loud testimony to things invisible, suprasensory, not subject to experience, for example: beauty, which does not exist for the carnal eye.
The philosopher, however, has mental access to the realm of truth, which is not merely a space of abstract ideas. As Plato himself says, “that which truly exists cannot be denied movement, life, soul, and thought.
A position that recognizes the reality of ideas, called conceptual realism or Platonic realism, is sometimes popular especially among physicists and mathematicians.
Werner Heisenberg on Platonic ideas:
“Modern physics strongly confirms Plato”s theory. The smallest units of matter are not physical objects in the ordinary sense. They are forms, ideas, which can only be expressed unambiguously by the language of mathematics.”
This is why mathematics is an essential propaedeutic of Platonic philosophy, and the inscription ἀγεωμέτρητος μηδεὶς εἰσίτω (ageōmetrētos mēdeis eisitō, “to those who do not know geometry, entrance forbidden”), paraphrasing an inscription from the mystery cults ἀμύητον μὴ εἰσιέναι (amyēton mē eisienai, “to the uninitiated, entrance forbidden”).
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Oral and written communication
As Plato says, what is most important cannot be expressed in words, not because it is unspeakable and extra-verbal, but because one who lacks experience will not understand a verbal account anyway. “A serious man,” according to Plato, “will certainly not write about things of such importance, and will not give them up to the envy and awkwardness of men,” although “in the shortest possible words he closes himself off. In the Phaedrus, Plato carries out a critique of writing, preferring speech to the dead letter of the text, which, when asked about anything, is “very solemnly silent”; written speech, moreover, “falls into the hands of both those who understand it and those who should never fall into its hands.” The only proper way to convey philosophical teachings is through lively speech, adapted to the speaker. Plato thus favors oral over written communication. Moreover, Aristotle mentions the existence of so-called unwritten teachings (ἄγραφα δόγματα), hence one speaks of “unwritten science” or “oral Platonism”. The existence of Plato”s unwritten science is affirmed by almost all ancient, medieval, and Christian neoplatonists. Hans Krämer, however, claims that Plato”s esoteric (internal) doctrine coincides with the exoteric (public) one expressed in the dialogues. According to Hans-Georg Gadamer, “truth is veiled in irony and intentionally hidden” and the literary form created by Plato:
“is not merely an intelligent place to hide his doctrines, but is a deeply meaningful way of expressing them within the possibilities afforded by the art of writing.”
For example, according to Giovanni Reale, the myth of the androgyne in The Feast is an allegorical expression of Platonic protology, i.e. the doctrine of unity and diad. The reasons for this masking are political (fear of conflict with the prevailing polytheistic religion), didactic (lack of preparation of the reader), ethical (inappropriateness of the book form to achieve an ethical goal), and religious (the ideas pertain to the realm of the divine and as such are inappropriate for any audience). A consequence of this rift is disinterpretations of Plato”s doctrine, treating his teaching as a doctrine of two worlds, postulating an ideal, true world, contrasted with the sensually accessible world of appearance; but this will not be understood by someone who cannot “understand metaphysical or mystical statements.” As Nietzsche put it, “Plato is essentially a pantheist in the guise of a dualist.” Hans Kelsen argues that:
“all the techniques of concealment that characterized the dialogues, esotericism, and gradual disclosure were particularly subtle ways of influencing young men who were sexually attracted to Plato; for eroticism also has something to do with concealment and disclosure.”
According to some scholarly traditions, what Plato included in his dialogues is only an introduction to the secret science proper (unwritten, orally transmitted science). In modern science, the dispute over the existence of unwritten science dates back at least to August Boeckh”s polemic with Friedrich Schleiermacher in 1808. The theory of unwritten science was criticized at that time by Wilhelm Gottlieb Tennemann, who claimed that Plato”s writings “are the only pure source from which one can learn reasoning, and not his complete system, because they were agrapha dogmata (…). The assumption of esoteric philosophy is based on a false foundation”. The supporters of the theory of the unwritten sciences refer primarily to the famous Letter VII, in which the philosopher carries out a critique of writing:
“Of all those who have written or will write about anything in this field, and claim to be familiar with what constitutes the subject of my most serious considerations because of what they have heard from me or others … this much I have to say, it is not, in my opinion, possible for them to understand even a little. Nor is there any dissertation of mine discussing these matters, and certainly there never will be. For these are not things that can be put into words like the knowledge of other sciences, but from prolonged contact with an object, by virtue of one”s living with it, suddenly as if under the influence of a passing spark, a light is lit in the soul and burns henceforth fueling itself.”
In the dialogue Phaedrus, Plato cites the myth of King Thamus of Egypt and the god Teutus – Teutus praises the invention of writing:
“King, this science will make the Egyptians wiser and more efficient in remembering; this invention is a cure for memory and wisdom.”
To this Tamuz:
“This invention will sow oblivion in the souls of men, because a man who learns it will stop exercising his memory (…). So this is not a cure for memory, but a remedy for remembering (…). You will give your disciples only the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom. For they will have great knowledge without learning, and they will think that they know a lot, but in the main they will know nothing and will be difficult to deal with.
Further Plato puts the words into Socrates” mouth:
“There is something terribly strange about writing, Phaedrus. (…) It sometimes seems to you that they (the written words) think and speak. And if you ask them something of what they are talking about (they always say the same thing”.
“And what one who has knowledge of what is just and beautiful and good … and he will not seriously write these things on flowing water, he will not with pen and ink sow words that words cannot speak for themselves and teach the truth as it should be taught.”
These short passages gave Thomas A. Szlezák the idea that Plato”s true teachings were never written down – it is the so-called unwritten teachings (agrapha dogmata) that are to be the subject of reconstruction. The Dialogues themselves, on the other hand, would be, in this interpretation, merely a collection of certain theses that serve to remind students of the unwritten science. These scholars are concentrated in the so-called Tübingen School, founded by Hans Krämer and active until recently at the University of Tübingen. The last active representative of the Tübingen school is Thomas Alexander Szlezák. Some of the theses of the Tübingen scholars are now also being considered more seriously by opponents of the classical interpretations.
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Theory of Ideas
According to Trubetskoy(Russian), Plato”s world was a living, spiritualized and rational entity. According to Plato”s teaching, the world of sensual things is not the world of what really exists: sensual things continually arise and perish, change and move, there is nothing permanent and real in them. The real essence of sensuous things, their causes, are disembodied non-sensory forms explored by reason. These causes, or forms, Plato calls views (“ejdos”), much more rarely ideas.
According to Plato, matter is the mirror in which ideas are reflected. The word idea (ἰδέα), derived from the verb idein (ἰδεῖν, to see), originally means a sensory shape, and only in philosophical language does it acquire an ontological and metaphysical sense, indicating a post-sensory reality. The word is based on the root -id(-vid), which is related to vision, and etymologically means something seen, the shape in which something appears to the observer, a view or appearance, and only metaphorically means the inner shape appearing to the mind”s eye. Although tradition attributes to Plato the formulation of the theory of ideas, Plato himself never used such an expression. It appears only in Aristotle (hē peri tōn eidōn doksa) and Diogenes Laertios (peri tōn ideōn hypolēpsis). As Stanley Rosen argues,
“one who develops a ”theory” (in the modern, or constructivist, sense of the word) of ideas in apparent contradiction to Plato”s dialogical procedure is likely to become a Platonist or to produce what might be called Platonism. It does not follow, however, that Plato himself was a Platonist. The history of Platonism begins with Aristotle, not with Plato.”
According to Aristotle, on the other hand, who spent 20 years at the Platonic Academy, the Platonic theory of ideas was based on the earlier search for the essence of things by the Eleates and Pythagoreans. On the other hand, its development was influenced by Socrates and opposition to Heraclitus” variabilism. Plato, as the heir of Parmenides, understands the idea in opposition to changeable phenomena, as a fixed, self-identical, and autonomous entity that welds together both existence and essence. As a student of Socrates, he assumes that ideas explain the essence of things, that is, what something is, what makes a thing be itself, e.g., the essence of a bee, which is the same in individual bees, makes each bee precisely a bee and not a bumblebee. Similarly, the essence of beauty makes beautiful objects beautiful, for they have in them the very thing that makes them beautiful, the fixed idea of beauty.
Although Plato does not speak of a “theory of ideas” in the modern sense of theory, the word theoria (vikt:θεωρία) appears in his work, denoting the activity of looking, of viewing. Idea in Plato”s philosophy is rendered most often by the Greek words ἰδέα (idea) and εἶδος (eidos), which derive from the verb “to see,” having a close affinity with “to know.” Hence Plato treats ideas as intelligibles which, together with their principle, the idea of the good, are the cause not only of the shape and existence of the sensuous world but also of its rational knowability. Under the influence of Pythagorean philosophy, Plato also treats the idea as a boundary, which can be understood as a measure that determines the relations in the structure of a given thing. In this sense, ideas are the cause of regularity, order and harmony of the world.
Plato variously defines and captures the relation between ideas cognizable by reason and objects accessible by the senses: primarily as imitation (Gr. μιμήσις, mimesis) or participation (Gr. μέθεξις, methexis). Ideas can be understood externally, as patterns that form their sensory copies, and internally, as the intelligibilous constitution present in sensory objects. In addition, ideas participate in each other, forming a relational nexus that determines the relations between sense objects, allowing some (“Theaetetus sits”) and not others (“Theaetetus flies”). The sensory objects themselves (e.g., trees) are to be understood not as material substances, but as phenomena, or sensory manifestations, constituted in their interiority by a bundle of ideas (e.g., identity, difference, beauty, plant, tree).
The world of ideas can thus be understood as a mutually contingent network of ideal forms, existing independently of man, which constitute the sensory world, being the cause both of what it is and that it exists at all (it exists), as well as of the fact that it is cognizable – thus fully explaining the world. It can also be assumed that ideas have three different statuses, i.e. that the same idea exists independently of the sensory world and the cognizing subject (transcendent status), exists in sensory objects (immanent status), and exists in the minds of the cognizing subjects (mental status).
Ideas form a hierarchy – the highest idea is goodness, which is the principle of the other ideas, though it is equaled in rank by beauty. The highest kinds like being, rest, motion, identity, difference can also be regarded as more basic ideas, which determine the others. It is also worth mentioning that according to Aristotle and the indirect tradition (“unwritten sciences”) Plato developed a mathematized and relational version of the theory of ideas, within the framework of which, apart from ideas, he also accepted two supreme principles, the one (identified with the good) and the indefinite diad, ideal numbers and geometrical ideas, as well as the objects of mathematics (algebra and geometry). This project could serve, on the one hand, to finally ground the theory of ideas and to base them on the theory of first principles, and on the other hand to show their structural and relational unity.
Plato included the science of ideas in various places in his dialogues, and in a synthetic way in Book VI and VII of the State, where he presents, among others, the metaphor of a cave, describing slaves trapped in a cave and watching only the shadows appearing on the wall. The cave can be treated as a prison of the soul, which takes as its true existence only what it recognizes with its senses. If only it could turn in the opposite direction, towards the exit from the cave, i.e. into itself (and also into sensuous objects), it would be able to reach the source of true cognition and existence: the world of ideas, together with the supreme principle of good, which shines like the sun outside the cave.
The theory of ideas has lived to see various interpretations. Emphasized, among others, their metaphysical meaning (neoplatonic interpretation, Tibbingen school) or, on the contrary, epistemological and methodological character (Marburg school) or their axiological role (Paul Shorey) draw attention to the fact that the theory of ideas in its metaphysical interpretation does not necessarily entail dualism, the so-called. The theory of ideas, in its metaphysical interpretation, does not necessarily entail dualism, the so-called “two different worlds” separated from each other (the world of ideas – the world of the senses), but we can speak here of one world, having different but internally complementary levels or layers.
According to Paul Ricoeur, the Platonic theory of ideas is a view of “true being,” and Platonism involves a shift from the verb “to be” to the noun “being,” denoting absolute being, of which the idea of the good is a figure.
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At the center of Plato”s metaphysics is the idea of the good, the supreme principle of which all other ideas are derived. The idea of the Good as the cause of the existence of everything is the highest, ideal beginning, the absolute divine ideal. The ethical interpretation of the idea of the good, though the most common, is not the only one. For it is impossible to teach the idea of the good in a dogmatic way, by giving it a verbal definition. It can be learned by “imitating god,” which is done through dialectics.
“It is only by traversing the path leading through them all, climbing up and coming down through the various steps, that the knowledge of what is good by nature is laboriously born in one who is good by nature.”
The idea of the good is epekeina tes ousias, i.e., “beyond all being.” Hans Joachim Krämer interprets the idea of the good transcendentally. This interpretation was challenged by Matthias Baltes in favor of an immanentist interpretation. According to Paul Natorp, epekein means “the unity of the original living … the totality of the soul … the originally existing agathon … which the individual soul must recognize as its ultimate basis.”
As Plato himself wrote, “the good is something that shimmers (…) with different colors, something manifold.” The good is “difficult to see” (mogis orasthai). (mogis orasthai).
“The objects of cognition are not only made cognizable by the Good, but their existence and essence also derive from it, although the Good is not an essence, but something beyond all essence, something higher and more powerful by far.”
“At the summit of the world of thought shines the idea of the Good, and it is very difficult to see it, but whoever sees it will realize that it is for everything the cause of everything (…), in the visible world light comes from it (…), in the world of thought it reigns and gives birth to truth (…), it must be seen by one who is to act reasonably in private or public life.”
The idea of the good is usually understood in moral terms, but according to Martin Heidegger, this interpretation of the idea of the good is misleading and obscures its original, source, absolute essence:
“this interpretation is foreign to Greek thinking, although Plato”s interpretation is agathon as an idea gave an asumption to think of the good in a moral way and eventually to classify it as a certain value.”
An example of the original Greek non-moral thinking about the good is the philosophy of Heraclitus, according to whom the good understood from the source, i.e., the divine, is not, according to him, opposed to evil – unlike the good seen from a human perspective:
To God everything is beautiful and good and right; only people think that one thing is right and another wrong.
Heraclitus even goes so far as to say that “Good and bad are one and the same,” a contemporary take on Heidegger:
“We say good, and we think good in the sense of Christian morality: decent, orderly, according to principle and law. But in Greek, and still in the Platonic sense, agathon means (…) to enable being as such to make itself present towards the unmanifest.”
“Just as aletheia (truth) has degraded into verum and certum, a similar process of decline affects agathon (good) and continues until the present day.”
This thought was taken up by Heidegger when he argued that the source-understood good “completes everything (…), embraces everything that is as being (…), is the fundamental determinant of all order (…), is the origin, the principle, the leaven of everything (…), transcends both being and its being.” Heidegger adds:
“the problem of agathon is only the culmination of a central and specific question about the fundamental possibility of the existence of being in the polis … agathon is … the power that wields the possibility of truth, understanding, and even being, and in unity, all three at once …. It is no accident that agathon is contentually indeterminate, such that all attempts to define and interpret it must fail. Rationalist explanations fail here as does the irrationalist flight into mystery.
Giovanni Reale, Plato”s interpreter, equated Plato”s good with one. The one, as Plato demonstrates in Parmenides, is both immanent and transcendent, ultimately eluding any unambiguous definition. Therefore, as Jan Patočka argues, this idea “cannot be an object of contemplation because it is not an object at all,” and philosophy does not convey it directly “in the form of object knowledge available in the world, which can always be pointed to and passed on,” but only through a dialectical lead-in, vividly portrayed by Plato through the allegory of the cave in Book VII of The State.
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Dialectics is at the heart of Plato”s philosophy; it is a method of leading the philosopher to the knowledge of the supreme, i.e. the idea of the good. For the good is learned not through a definition, but through the transformation of the philosopher, the turning of his soul (periagoge tes psyches). The philosopher, i.e., the one who has made the turn, is thus a dialectician and at the same time a synopticist (ho synoptikos dialektikos), i.e., a co-viewer, embracing dialectical opposites in their unity. Dialectics is “the highest philosophical method.” Its aim is, in the words of Giorgio Agamben, to reach “an impossible and unassumed principle ”to the non-hypothetical summit and beginning of everything, to touch it and finally to go down again” to the thing itself”, which “is itself unspeakable”, for “it is itself an absolute presupposition”. The main works in which Plato describes the dialectical method are, in addition to the State, the dialogues Parmenides (in which Plato focuses on the dialectic of unity and multiplicity) and Sophist (treating the dialectic of being and non-being). A dialectician is one who can turn the soul from the domain of multiplicity and change to the domain of unity and immutability (and perceive the relationship between these domains). “Philosophers are those who are able to touch that which is always the same in the same respect; and they are not philosophers who are not able to do this, but are in general still entangled in the world of these manifold objects” or “manifold phenomena of universal changeability.” The One identified with the supreme Good is not, however, merely an abstract arithmetical unity, but a unity which harmonizes and permeates all things, as the dialectician understands:
“duly perceive how one character is drawn through many kinds, though each lies separately. And how many different from one another one character outwardly embraces, and how one through many kinds into one.”
Dialectics is thus an art that allows the dialectician “to look down and bring with one glance the details scattered here and there into one essence of things,” “to have an eye on the multiplicity of things around him and, embracing them all, to aim at unity. Diotima”s speech from the Feast is thus a description of dialectical movement by means of erotic metaphors, a movement of love from one, through two, three bodies, through the love of all bodies, to the love of that which directs this love, the beauty that permeates them in itself.
Plato warns of the “danger of dialectics”, which consists in the fact that the dialectical abolition of dualistic oppositions as a result of the absolutization of such notions as, for example, good and truth, leads to the fact that the beginner in the art of dialectics “begins to disregard the laws completely”, because such a person will question all the principles and will not find the true ones, as a result of which “now he begins to break the laws, whereas before he listened to them”. This danger is related to the fact that the first stage of the dialectical movement is the Socratic undermining of all beliefs, opinions, entering the state of ignorance. Hegel calls this stage “the art of confusing ideas and concepts, of showing that they are nothing (…) of reducing them to nothingness.” The danger Plato warns against is to stop at this stage, which has only a negative result, but does not constitute dialectics in the sense of leading to first principles of cognition, which are themselves unjustified, groundless, provable only by dialectic, not by definitional verbal determination. The actual dialectic:
It “reveals the necessary movement of pure concepts, not as if by doing so it reduced them to nothingness, but in such a way that its result is precisely that these concepts are this movement and (…) the general is precisely the unity of such opposite concepts. (…) The absolute essence is recognized in pure concepts”.
Someone who stops at the preliminary, negative, purifying stage of the dialectic is not a philosopher but an immoralist, nihilist, and sophist. The counterpart of Hegel”s distinction between the negative and positive moments of Plato”s dialectic are the two faces of Socrates: the negative, undermining, leading to ignorance through the method of nailing down and undermining (elenchos), and the esoteric Socrates who:
“it is similar to the sylphs you find in figurine stores, carved with a flute or pipe in hand, which when opened show the image of a god inside (the images inside when he is serious and opens (…) were so divine, golden and incredibly beautiful that I just had to do whatever he commanded me to do.”
From this perspective, Plato”s polemic against the sophists conducted in the First Book of the State, Sophist and Gorgias, is crucial. The sophist is someone who has fallen into the “danger of dialectics”. In the Gorgias, the sophist Kallikles delivers this praise of immoralism:
According to the law of nature, I see beauty and rightness in the fact that whoever wishes to live rightly should allow himself to develop his lusts to the fullest, without restraining them. And when they have reached their full potential, he should put all his energy at their service and satisfy them by always supplying them with whatever he desires. This, however, is not possible for the common people. It claims that abstinence is a disgrace, and it does so because it wants to impose its weak will on superior individuals, and because it is incapable of satisfying its passions, so it praises abstinence for the sake of its own vile nature. A love of pleasure, unrestrained freedom, as long as one has the opportunity to satisfy the passions, this is true virtue and happiness, everything else is just a show-off, a conspiracy against nature, a worthless talk.
However, as Plato stated in Letter VII, it is only by repeatedly traversing the dialectical path, “climbing up and descending through the various steps, that the knowledge of what is good by nature arises laboriously in him who is good by nature.” In Book II of the State, Plato wrote that, contrary to what the poets claim, God is good, is even goodness itself, and philosophy consists in “imitating god” (homoiosis theoi), and thus to become good.
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In his ethical reflections Plato, like other Greek thinkers of antiquity, focused primarily on the virtues and happiness. This kind of reflection is called eudaimonistic ethics. The name is derived from the Greek term eudaimonia formed by combining the participle eu, meaning “something is good,” with the word daimon translated as “deity,” “divine being,” “demon,” “force of fate,” “tutelary spirit,” “ghost. Eudaimonia literally means “having a good spirit.” In an ethical context, the term is most often translated as “happiness. At the same time, it is emphasized that it is not happiness understood in an emotional way. Eudaimonia consists in a certain functioning of man (both in its external and internal aspects), which makes his life the best it can be. The basic questions of this ethics – questions that Plato also posed to himself in his dialogues – include:
In his search for answers to these questions, Plato, like his teacher Socrates, directed his reflection to the question of the soul. He believed that the proper functioning of the soul constitutes the path on which a human being can reach the highest happiness. For this reason, the dialogues repeatedly contain various exhortations to care for the soul and take care of it in order to develop its abilities. From this perspective, the far greater evil is that which affects the soul rather than the body. A good illustration for this way of thinking is provided by the following passage from Socrates” conversation with Kriton:
“- Then is it worth our while to live with a corrupt and vile body? – No.- And with this corrupt one is it worth our while to live, which injustice stains and what justice serves? Do we think it less worthy than the flesh that some element of ours which is concerned with injustice and justice.- Never.- So it is worth more?- And much more.”
In Plato”s writings, therefore, the soul is the subject of closer reflection. He recognizes – following his teacher Socrates – that it is the center of what is most human and what is proper to man. For it is the soul that is responsible for actions such as reasoning, desire, or anger. On this basis Plato divides the soul internally and distinguishes its parts responsible for specific functions. Each of these parts should act in its own way, that is, in accordance with its corresponding perfection, which in Greek is called aretē. This word is sometimes translated into Polish as “virtue” or “courage”. As a result, an important element of Plato”s ethical reflection is the theory of virtues. The emphasis on the care of the soul is important not only from the perspective of the good life of a particular individual, but also for the proper functioning of the state. A good example is provided by a passage in the dialogue The State, where justice in the state and justice for the individual are discussed. A just state is possible only when each of its citizens performs his or her assigned function within the community, i.e., does what belongs to him or her. The justice of the state is therefore based on the proper functioning of individuals. For them to act in this way, however, they themselves must be just. For as Plato”s Socrates points out in his discussion with Glaucon in The State:
“So we,” I added, “have been through a lot of misery, and we already agree that the same kinds that are in the state are also in the soul of every man, and there are as many of them here and there. – True, now it follows of necessity that, as the state is wise, so is the individual man; by the same token, he too will be wise. So what? And by what the individual man is brave, and in what way, so is the state brave, and in the same way. As far as bravery is concerned, it is with everything equally on both sides.- Necessarily.- And to the just also, Glaukon, I think so, we will say that the individual man will be just in the same way that the state was just.- And it must be so, necessarily.”
In Plato”s ethical reflection we also find strands of what is referred to as ethical intellectualism. This view consists in equating virtue with knowledge. Thus, knowledge of what is good, just, pious, valiant, etc. also implies the ability to do just that. As Frederick Copleston explains on the grounds of this view: “(…) a man who knows what is truly good may allow his judgment to be so obscured by passion, at least temporarily, that the apparent good appears to him to be the true good, however responsible he may be for having brought it about. (…). If he chooses what is truly evil or harmful, seeing that it will ultimately be so, it is perhaps because, contrary to his knowledge, he attaches his attention to one aspect of that object which appears good to him.”
Plato”s reflection on the soul represents one of the important stages in the formation and development of this concept in ancient thought. Plato makes use of his earlier views on the subject, as well as develops and transforms them creatively. That is why in the dialogues we can find many places that allow to characterize what the soul is, what its structure and function are. It must be remembered, however, that for the ancient Greeks the meaning of the soul (psychē) was not limited to matters of ethics or religion. As Giovanni Reale puts it: “in Greek culture psychē plays an important role in practically all fields: from metaphysics to natural philosophy, from cosmology to anthropology, from ethics to politics, from gnoseology to religion”. In Plato”s case, consideration of the soul appears among ethical inquiries, those concerning the fate of man after death, or those belonging to the theory of cognition. This allows Plato to show the soul, its meaning and functions from different perspectives. This passage covers only general remarks on the concept of the soul, its functions and divisions, as well as themes of an ethical and eschatological nature (i.e. related to the post-mortem fate of the human soul).
In the Phaedrus the soul is defined as that which enables the body to move on its own. As Socrates says: “For every body that moves from without is soulless, dead, but that which moves from within, of itself, has a soul, for this is the nature of the soul,” adding that: “nothing else is that which moves itself but the soul”. The soul is thus understood here as the intrinsic source of a living being”s movement. Moreover, in the passage cited above, it is the possession of a soul that provides the criterion for distinguishing the living from the inanimate. By adopting this understanding of the soul, Plato directly alludes to his contemporary traditional Greek beliefs and ideas on the subject. According to Hendrik Lorenz: “In fifth-century colloquial Greek, to have a soul simply means to be alive,” and what is indicative of this life is the ability to move independently. Thus everything that moves of its own accord is alive, and therefore possesses a soul that makes that movement possible. This kind of views can be found as early as in the writings of Thales.
Then, in a number of dialogues, Plato strongly emphasizes the differences between the soul and the body. In the Phaedo, when discussing the permissibility of suicide, the body is described as the soul”s prison, from which it is impossible to free itself. In the Orphic tradition, the body (soma) is referred to as the tomb (sema) of the soul, which is taken up by Plato. This theme of the body as something that limits the soul is developed a little further in the same dialogue. This is because Socrates states that it is the body that hinders the soul from performing its proper function, which is reasoning. The soul:
“(…) she understands most beautifully when none of these things obstructs her eyes: neither hearing, nor sight, nor pain, nor pleasure, when she concentrates herself as much as possible in herself, not caring at all about the body, when, as much as possible, she breaks off all commonality, all contact with the body, and stretches out her hands to be on her own”.
The body, on the other hand, is defined as the “great evil,” that which is impure. In Gorgias the body is compared by Socrates to the grave, and life on earth to death. According to Giovanni Reale, for Plato the soul and the body are a structural opposition. This opposition has its origins in the religious current known as Orphism. Thus, it is the second of the traditional Greek ways of thinking about the soul that Plato alluded to in his philosophy.
By juxtaposing the soul and the body, Plato emphasized that these two elements are not equal. He regarded the soul as something better and more important than the body, which he expressed especially in Phaedo. In this dialogue Socrates characterizes the soul as follows:
“Kebes, from all that we have said, does it not follow that what is divine and immortal, and accessible only to thought, and having only one form, and undecomposable, and always the same in itself, is most like the soul; and what is human and mortal, and thoughtless, and manifold, and decomposable, and always manifold in itself, is most like the body again?
Consequently, it is the soul that should rule and subdue the body, since it is what is divine in man: “(…) as long as the soul and body are together, to him: to serve and submit is ordered by nature, and to her: to rule and reign. Therefore, which of the two seems to you like the divine and which like the mortal? Does it not occur to you that the divine is born to rule and government, and that the mortal is born to subjection and service?” We also find a similar thought in the Phaedrus.
Since the soul is what is better in man, it is also with the soul that we should associate what distinguishes man from other living beings. Therefore, Plato believes that it is the soul that is responsible for reasoning and learning the truth, as well as for whether man acts well and is virtuous or, on the contrary, does iniquity and is unjust. In this respect, too, Plato refers to his contemporaries” intuitions and ideas about the soul. According to Lorenz, at the turn of the sixth and fifth centuries B.C.E. Greeks increasingly began to perceive the soul as something that performs certain activities and takes certain actions, which can be evaluated as good or bad. As this author points out, “(…) emotions such as love and hate, joy and sorrow, anger and shame are linked to the soul”, adding a little further that: “It was natural for an informed user of fifth-century Greek to think of qualities of the soul as responsible for or manifested in morally relevant human behavior.” Plato not only refers to these views but also develops them accordingly by making an internal division of the soul and assigning specific functions to its various parts. In the dialogues we find two divisions of the soul: in the Phaedrus.
The discussion of the soul occurs within Socrates” so-called Second Speech, which presents Eros – and by extension love – as something divine, good, and praiseworthy. In order to demonstrate that love is “the greatest happiness” and “the greatest divine gift,” Socrates begins by taking a closer look at the soul and the states in which it can be found. This consideration is introduced through a story (myth) that uses metaphor and comparison. This is because Plato”s Socrates states that talking about the soul directly would require extensive and complicated considerations that are difficult for humans to comprehend. For this reason, he opts for the simpler solution of using a metaphorical image of the soul: “What it is in general and in every respect, for this requires divine and long discourses; but what it resembles, for this human and shorter ones will suffice.”
The soul is likened to a winged chariot drawn by two horses, led by a coachman:
“Let it be like the strength of a winged carriage and a coachman united into one. With the gods, both the horses and the coachmen are brave and of good stock, but with others they are a mixture. Thus, our leader must lead in pairs, and then he has one perfect horse, of a beautiful and good race, and another of quite the opposite breed, a steed completely opposite to that one.
In this way three elements of the soul are distinguished, which together form a unity: the coachman and the two horses. It is clear from the above passage that the structure of the soul is inherent in both gods and humans. The only difference between them, as Plato points out, lies in the quality of the individual parts of the soul. In the case of the gods, both the coachman and the two horses are of the same kind – they are equally good and perfect. In the case of the human soul, on the other hand, one horse is depicted as the opposite of the other. Plato then characterizes both of these horses in a very vivid way:
“Of horses, on the other hand, we said, one is good and the other is not. But what the goodness of the one is and the wickedness of the other we have not gone over; let us now say. The one who has the better position is straight and well-proportioned and shapely; his neck is high, his nose is gently turned down, his coat is white, his eyes black; he is ambitious, but he has power over himself and shame in his eyes. He likes deserved glory; a god he needs not, a good word is enough for him. The other is crooked, fat, and bound; he has a hard neck, a short neck, an upward-slanting nose, black hair, and fire in his bloodshot eyes; boastfulness and insolence are his elements. He cannot hear at all, for his ears are shaggy; he can scarcely hear a whip or a fetter.
The white horse and the black horse thus symbolize two opposite elements in the human soul-the source of goodness and moderation on the one hand, and the source of evil and disorder on the other. Their relationship to the third element, the coachman, also follows from this characterization. The white horse is the one that “always obeys the coachman (…), he is guided by shame and stops himself”, while the black horse breaks away and wants to go his own way. In the image of the soul presented here, the coachman is therefore the directing element, the one who, with the help of the reins, is able to restrain both horses and give them the right direction. As Plato says, the driver is reason.
The horse-drawn carriage driven by the coachman, which is the image of the soul, is at the same time a winged carriage. Wings distinguish the soul from what is earthly and corporeal and allow it to dominate over it: “And because it is perfect and winged, so it flies in the sky and rules the whole world and farms it as if it were its own home.” They allow her to ascend to the divine:
“Wings have inherent power, to lift what is heavy up into the sky, where the family of gods dwells. No body has as much divine element in it as wings. And the divine element is beauty, goodness, reason and all similar things. This is the food they feed on and from it the feathers of the soul grow the fastest, while from iniquity and evil they wither and fade away.
In this respect, the important role of the coachman – reason – becomes apparent, for the black horse is the one “that has evil in it, that pulls down”, which ultimately leads to the soul losing its wings and falling. For the natural destiny of the soul is to strive for that which is above, because, as Plato says, “there, in that very bounty, grows the food which the best part of the soul needs; from it the wings which carry the soul upward gain strength. And that which is above, and which souls aspire to behold, is the supernal world of what is real and what really exists, which can only be known by means of reason.
Plato presents the division of the soul in Book IV of the State. The main theme of the discussion, which continues from the beginning of Book I, is the question of what justice is. The interlocutors – Socrates, Glaukon, and Adejmantos – agree to first consider what justice is in relation to the state, so that on this basis they can then determine what it is in relation to the individual. After a rather lengthy discussion of justice in the State, covering the contents of Books II-IV, the interlocutors conclude that they have already developed sufficient conclusions about justice in the State and can now move on to answer the question of what justice is in the case of an individual human being. It is in this context that Plato introduces the division of the soul.
Justice in the State is identified with a situation in which each of the three states of citizens (i.e., artisans, guards) performs what belongs to them. Thus the case must be the same with regard to the individual. For the interlocutors recognize that the figure (eidos) of justice is the same both in the state and in the individual man. If, therefore, the state has been distinguished as having three layers that are necessary for it to function justly, it must likewise be examined whether such “three forms” can also be distinguished in the case of the soul. The basis for distinguishing the different parts of the soul is the assumption that one and the same element cannot function in a contradictory manner. As Socrates says:
“It is clear that one and the same thing will not want at the same time either to act or to experience opposite states for the same reason and in relation to the same object. At first, if we find somewhere that this happens to the elements in us, we will know that it was not one and the same thing, but there were more of these elements”.
As a result, the following three parts of the soul are distinguished:
The intellect is the part that should govern the others, and consequently temperament and desire should be subordinate to it:
“(…) The intellect should be in command, because it is wise and should think in advance about the whole soul, and the temperament should be subject to it and be in alliance with it? Those two elements will watch out for her, so that she does not satiate herself with pleasures that are called carnal, because if she grows as a result and increases her strength, she will stop doing her own thing, and she will try to rule what she has no power over by nature, and she will turn the whole collective life upside down.
With each of the parts of the soul distinguished by him, Plato links the corresponding virtue (bravery). According to Plato, in the case of every thing and every living being (including human beings), it is possible to identify its proper action or function, which only it is capable of performing best. This view is well illustrated by the following excerpt from Socrates” conversation with Glaucon in The State:
“-(…) Tell me, does anything seem to you to be the work of a horse? – Yes. – And is not that what you would consider to be the work of a horse and anything else with which one works exclusively or best? – I don”t understand,” says he. “It is like this: can you see with anything but your eyes? – No, indeed. – Well, and can you hear with anything but your ears? – Not at all. – Wouldn”t we rightly call it the work of eyes and ears? – Well, yes. – Well – and can you cut off vine twigs with a sword, and with a penknife, and with many other tools? How could you not. But nothing so beautifully as with a vine sickle, which is made for that purpose. True. Shall we call it his work? And let us. Well, now, I think you can better understand what I meant just now, when I asked whether it would not be the work of every one what he either exclusively or best of all performs.”
A virtue is that by which a thing or living being can perform its proper function in the best possible way:
“Well, all right,” I say. – And don”t you think that everything that has a job assigned to it has its own bravery? Let”s go back to the same thing again. The eyes, shall we say, have their work? – They do. And is there also a bravery of the eyes? There is a bravery. What about everything else? Not the same? The same. Hold that. Could the eyes do their job beautifully if they didn”t have their own bravery, but instead of bravery a flaw? (…)”.
Virtue (bravery), then, is that which enables excellence of action within the framework of one”s assigned purposes and functions. What Plato is particularly interested in are the virtues (bravery) of the human soul. Their importance is related to the fact that the activity proper to the soul is simply life. Hence the question about the virtues (qualities) of the soul is at the same time a question about how to achieve a good life. In the same fragment of Book IV of the State, in which Plato divides the soul, we also find the assignment to each of the distinguished parts of the soul of a corresponding virtue (valour). These are as follows:
The fourth virtue, related to the soul conceived as a whole, is justice (dikaiosyne). It consists in the internal harmony between all the organs of the soul. As Plato tells Socrates in the final fragment of Book IV of the State:
“And really justice is, it seems, something of the sort, but it does not consist in the external action of man”s internal factors, but in what happens in himself with these factors. In the fact that he does not allow any of them to do to him in his soul what does not belong to him, nor to perform several different functions at once. He has harmonized his three internal factors, as if they were three strings in good harmony, the lowest, the highest and the middle. In all these matters he considers and calls just and beautiful every act that maintains and contributes to his equilibrium. He calls wisdom the knowledge that dictates such acts. He calls unjust the deed that spoils this inner harmony of his, and he calls stupidity the opinion that again dictates such deeds”.
Thus formulated, the virtue of justice consists in the inner harmonization of one”s soul. The man who pursues justice should first deal with himself and turn to his inner self.
According to Marek Piechowiak, if we consider that the fundamental question underlying Plato”s philosophical reflection is how to be good, how to be happy, then the issue of justice will be the central issue of Plato”s philosophy. A just man is a perfect, fulfilled, happy, good man. Justice is the most important of the cardinal virtues. It is not simply the sum of the others. While wisdom is the perfection of the rational part, valor is the perfection of the martial part, and prudence is the perfection of the relations between the parts of the soul, justice is the perfection of the soul (man) as a whole. The more justice, the more inner unity, integrity. Since unity is the basis of the existence of every being (the lack of unity leads to destruction), we can say that the more righteous a person is, the stronger, the more he exists. To put it in modern language, moral excellence turns out to be excellence in the order of “being” rather than in the order of “having.” Justice, unlike the other virtues, is a perfection from the existential order. The attainment of inner unity makes the just man similar to the Good itself, to the Idea of the Good, which is also the idea of unity – by giving itself, by giving its perfections, the Good gives unity to entities, and thus life and existence.
The concept of virtues presented here was later adopted by Christianity under the name of the four cardinal virtues.
Plato claimed that “the soul is immortal and takes on many bodies in succession, surrounding the body from the inside in all directions”. Reflections and references on this subject can be found in the dialogues: Phaedrus, Timaeus, and Phaedo.
In the Timaeus, the human soul is defined as “the immortal element.” In the Phaedrus, Plato”s Socrates emphatically states that: “All souls are immortal. For what moves eternally does not die.” The rationale for this is that the soul is its own source of motion:
“Only that which moves itself, as it will not leave itself, never ceases to move, but is, for all other things to which it gives motion, the source and origin of that motion. And the beginning has no time of birth. Everything that is born must be born from it, but it is born from nothing. After all, if it were born from something, it would not be the beginning. And since he is unborn, he must also be indestructible. For if the beginning were to perish, then it would no longer be itself from anything, nor would anything be born from it, since everything must be born from it.”
However the most extensive reflections on the subject are to be found in the dialogue Phaedo, which already in ancient tradition was subtitled On the Soul. Socrates, awaiting execution by poison, has a final conversation with his friends and disciples that focuses on the existence of the soul and its immortality. Three broad reasonings (70c through 84b), also called proofs for the immortality of the soul, are presented in this dialogue.
According to Plato, the attribute of immortality belongs to every soul, so not only human souls, but also divine souls and the soul of the world. As mentioned in the Timaeus: “this world is a living being, it has a soul and reason indeed. The world is so constituted that the spiritual overlaps with the corporeal. For Plato states that the demiurge, in creating the world, “all that is of a corporeal nature” put into the soul of the world in such a way “that the center of the corporeal world falls in the center of the soul.” In turn, the soul of the world is described as the best of the demiurge”s creations: “(…) and she is invisible, but reason has and harmony in herself, the soul – from among the objects of thought and from the eternal objects the best creation of the Best”. For the world is entirely self-sufficient:
“For nothing was going away, nor was anything coming to him from anywhere. It was not from anywhere. It was so arranged intricately that it supplies itself for sustenance with whatever is spoiled in it. He experiences everything from himself and so does everything.”
Also present in Plato”s dialogues is the theme of metempsychosis, or the wandering of souls. According to Giovanni Reale, Plato took it from Orphism and Pythagoreanism. These views, however, do not form a coherent set of statements, on the basis of which one could talk about a specific vision of life after death or eschatology. Often formulations on this subject are given in the form of myths, heard stories, or dressed up in rhetorical form. In spite of this, certain recurring themes can be identified.
In his dialogues, Plato emphasizes the cyclical nature of the journey: after death, souls leave their bodies, pass into the afterlife, where they are rewarded or punished, and then reincarnate. An important element here is the judgment that awaits souls after death. The basis for judgment is the life that the soul lived on earth. As Plato tells Socrates in The State, it is essential that this be a good and just life. All injustice meets with punishment:
“For every sin committed, and for every wronged person, they have suffered punishment; for every point tenfold – that is, once every hundred years, for that is how long the life of man lasts – that each one should atone tenfold for every crime.”
The image of judgment on souls is particularly vividly depicted at the end of Book X of the State containing the so-called Era myth. Socrates – summarizing a story he had heard – says:
“…He said that when the spirit came out of him, he began to go with many others, until they came to a certain place above, where there were in the earth two chasms, adjacent to each other, and in heaven, above, other such two chasms opposite. And between them sat the judges. These separated the spirits into two clusters, and they ordered the righteous to go to the right and to the top of the mountain through this opening in heaven, and to each hung the sentence of judgment in front. The unrighteous they ordered to go to the left and down. These also had – on their backs – the testimony of all their deeds.
What is noteworthy is that in the case of “incurable criminals”-as Socrates calls them-the punishment is not temporary, but eternal. A similar theme of punishment and reward is also present in the Phaedrus:
“And this is the law of Necessity: If a soul, following a god, sees something from the world of truth, nothing can happen to it until the next circuit, and if it can always do this, it will never suffer any harm. But if it does not manage to reach the summit and does not see anything, and by some chance it drinks from oblivion and becomes filled with heavy anger, and if it loses its feather and falls to the ground, it must not then enter into any animal organism at this first birth.
In this version of the story of the wandering of souls, therefore, the punishment is not some specific suffering in the hereafter, but a worse fate upon reincarnation. A similar punishment is also mentioned in Timaeus:
“He who lives the proper time well, will again go to dwell on the star to which he lawfully belongs, and will have a happy life and one to which he is accustomed. But whoever goes astray on this point, he will take on the nature of a woman at his second birth. And whoever, even under these conditions, has not yet rid himself of evil, will, according to the manner in which he has sinned, according to the manner in which his character has developed, always assume an animal nature of some kind…”.
A somewhat different kind of punishment is also mentioned in the Phaedo. As Socrates says:
“Therefore such a soul, saturated with what is corporeal, weighs down and drags itself again to visible places, out of fear of what is invisible, of the other world, and, as they say, wanders near monuments and graves, where some souls similar to shadows have already been seen more than once; (…) And these are certainly not the souls of brave people, but of evil ones, who must wander in such places, repenting of their first life: evil.”
As Socrates explains in the Theaetetus, the punishment that evil and unjust people suffer is the result of the fact that by their own actions they have become conformed to that which is evil, and therefore cannot, after death, abide among that which is good:
“(…) two prototypes stand in the bosom of real being: on the one hand that which is divine and most happy, and on the other that which is impious and most wretched. (…) They do not see how they are getting closer to one of these prototypes through their criminal acts, and further away from the other. They are punished for this because they lead a life similar to their prototype. (…) if they do not get rid of their anger, even after death they will not be accepted in the other world, which is clean and free from all evil; only here they will always bear the specific stigma of their behavior and will associate criminals with criminals (…).
The primary path toward the goal of happiness is the care of the soul (epimeleia tes psyches). Plato takes over and develops the teachings of Socrates. The emphasis on taking care of the soul in the first place, and not the body, is a consequence of Plato”s understanding of the soul.
For the care of the soul it is essential to know oneself, according to the Delphic maxim “know thyself” (γνῶθι σεαυτόν, gnothi seauton). Self-knowledge is possible through self-observation, which Plato compares to seeing one”s own face in a mirror image or in the eye of another person:
“the eye watching the eye and gazing at what is noblest in it and by which it sees, in this way it sees itself”.
Knowing one”s own soul means knowing oneself, especially when that view is based on wisdom and reason. This should be a constant activity of self-awareness: “The soul never leaves itself.” Deliberation is identified by Plato with knowledge of oneself, in which one examines the various aspects of one”s existence: spirituality and morality, corporeality, and possessions. This process is dialectical, involving the weighing of the individual parts belonging to human life in relation to its totality, by distinguishing truth from falsehood, real from unreal, good from bad, seeking to recognize and maintain balance. It is therefore harmful to be both insufficiently and excessively concerned with health, in both cases preventing one from working on oneself through philosophical exercises. As Pierre Hadot points out, for adequate therapy to be possible, it is necessary to change value judgments and, consequently, the whole mode of thinking and living. Such a therapy is the Platonic figure of the turn (periagoge) of the soul, from false views (doxai) to the view of the idea of the good, with respect to which a prudent care of the soul is possible. The philosophical knowledge necessary for this is attainable through external help. Following the opinion of so-called broad circles – widespread false views – leads to a sense of shame. Philosophical dialogue can free one from this feeling, as it enables one to learn about the good and about oneself in order to be guided by one”s own reason in matters of personal and public concern (Kriton).
“(…) whoever comes closest to Socrates with his thoughts – as if in blood – whoever comes close to him in conversation, must, even if they start talking about something else, follow him incessantly with their thoughts there and alone, until he falls in, and must give an account of himself, what his mode of living is now and how he lived his past life. And once someone has fallen in, Socrates is no sooner going to let him go until he has got it all out of him nicely (…) I like to remind myself of what we have done wrong or are doing today. A man who does not avoid it must think more carefully about what will happen in the future, gets a taste for it and believes that it is necessary, in Solon”s words, to learn how to live (…)”.
Self-care, then, is processual in nature and requires consistency. Socrates” process is described by Plato as a “test of perseverance in self-examination.” In this sense, self-concern is a constant “self-accounting”, the condition of which is truth verified by the testimony of life: “may I never become like some empty word”.
The care of the soul is at the same time for Plato an exercise in death (melete thanatou), an abandonment of what is changeable: “those who have come into contact with philosophy, as it should be, are concerned with nothing else but to die and not to live”. For the philosopher, death is not a bad thing; on the contrary, it is the best thing, so good that one cannot do it to oneself:
“Why is it not right to take life for oneself? Because it is not right to do good to oneself. For it is the gods who maintain us, and we humans are one of the gods” private properties. And yet you yourself, if any of your private property wanted to take life for itself, even though you would give no sign that you wanted it to die, would you be angry with it, and if you had any punishment to inflict, would you inflict it?”
The very exit of the philosopher from the cave to the sun is death: “when the soul is blinded by none of these things: neither hearing, nor sight, nor pain, nor pleasure, when it concentrates itself, as far as possible, in itself, not caring at all about the body, when, as far as possible, it breaks off all commonality, all contact with the body, and stretches out its hands to be on its own”. For, although “it sounds very unbelievable to people that when the soul is separated from the body, it is still somewhere”, it is only after the soul has been separated from the body that “I will know clearly when I am there”, in the place “which is above heaven”, of which:
“No earthly poet has ever rendered it in song, nor will he ever be able to do so. This place is occupied by a being that exists in essence, not dressed in colors, shapes or words, and that can only be seen by reason (nous), the soul”s director. The world of objects of true knowledge surrounds it”.
Then the soul comes to the recognition, which is the culmination of self-knowledge, that, in the words of Aristotle, “the soul is in some way all that exists,” making a return to itself, discovering:
“one thing extended through a multiplicity of things separated from one another, embracing them from without, passing through them, uniting them into one, distinguishing and defining them on every side.”
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According to Plato, the model of a true politician is Socrates, who is “the only true politician”. Plato”s politics is, therefore, a kind of anti-politics, which is a consequence of the transformation of the attitude towards the world and neighbours caused by the turn of the soul that the philosopher undergoes through dialectics. Such a philosopher, as Plato says in The State, will not want to do politics as it is commonly understood, and therefore he must be induced to do so, and punished if he does not do it, because if he knows the good itself, Socrates argues, he will not want to be ruled by inferior ones, and therefore he must establish a “state in the soul” based on logos, that is, the order of mental reality must be constituted on the basis of good and truth as the highest principles. Plato”s State is an attempt to describe such a state. There are disputes among modern scholars about whether there is a model of the system of the real state or only the internal system of the individual soul, and what is the relationship between the two. Plato claims that the state he describes is only a metaphor for the perfect, i.e. just, inner state, of the human psychē, that he is concerned with the “good and beautiful character, the inner constitution of the soul,” and that the model he presents is only a “state built in words.” Plato himself did not remain a contemplative turned away from the world of politics, but became involved in political action in Syracuse, Sicily, where, however, he was unsuccessful, and his attempt to embody the state of the philosophers failed, almost leading to Plato”s death, as he reports in detail in the autobiographical Letter VII. Plato”s apolitical interpretation of the State is contradicted by his statement at the beginning of the Timaeus:
“And now listen to how I felt disposed towards the country we were discussing. It seemed to me that I was as disposed as one who, seeing in a certain place beautiful animals, whether painted or living, but at rest, wishes to see them in motion, in one of those struggles which seem to correspond to their bodies; so I also feel towards the State of which we have been speaking. For I would gladly listen to how that State behaves in the battles which the States wage among themselves, in action, as well as in negotiations with particular States.”
In the Sophist, on the other hand, Plato states that “not such painted but real philosophers look down, from on high, on this life down here, and sometimes they appear as politicians, sometimes as Sophists, and it also happens that they can present themselves to someone as complete lunatics. The philosopher is therefore more than a politician, he is a kind of metapigure whose face can also be political. In Plato”s State there is a close analogy between the structure of the political system (the state) and the structure of the psychic system (the soul), which have a tripartite structure. Allan Bloom presents this analogy as follows:
“each of the parts provides the proper motivation for action and has its own proper purpose. Lust tends toward survival and comfort; spirituality toward honor, especially in politics; and reasonableness toward pure knowledge, or the contemplation of being. The educated man is one in whom all three elements have been adequately and completely developed and harmoniously balanced, especially as regards their obvious hierarchical order.
However, there is a feedback loop, the shape of the whole system is the effect of relations between its parts, but at the same time it has a secondary effect on the component parts:
“particular state systems fuel the development of one part of the soul at the expense of the others. They do this by granting power to people whose dominant motivation comes from one of these parts. They influence, through their authoritarian position, public education and the models they promote. By shaping the character of public life, they indirectly modify the inclinations of the people on whom the system is supported. In this way a limited world is constituted whose horizons exclude or distort other possibilities in such a way that they cease to be viable alternatives. The purpose of higher education – insofar as it is simply to educate human beings and not to fit a particular time and place – must be to counteract the dominant intellectual vice of the system and to nurture what it seeks to destroy.”
Paideia, in particular the education of critical thinking, distance from the existing world order and the cave as a domain of shadows, where “those who fight each other for shadows and power, as if power were some great good,” is thus a central element of Platonic politics. The situation of the philosopher who turned away from the game of shadows and then decided to return, that is, to engage in politics, is tragic: those to whom he returns, “if he tried to liberate them and drive them higher, if they could only grab hold of something and kill him, they would surely kill him.”
Leo Strauss claims that the Platonic project is political par excellence, and at the same time elitist and esoteric, and the task of the philosopher is to preach the “noble lie” (gennaion pseudos) (gennaion pseudos), i.e. to keep the masses unconscious in order to keep under control an uncontrollable crowd driven by low drives, which no educational measures are able to pull out of mental darkness. The Platonic philosopher, in spite of himself, has to strive for power so that the inferior ones do not rule him, although at the same time this exposes him to great danger. “The “noble lie” of the Platonic philosopher is thus at the same time a veil that protects him from persecution, a veil that is necessary in order “not to be accused of impiety” and “to avert the imminent danger. This kind of so-called theological-political interpretation of Plato”s esotericism is connected with theological constructivism and the instrumental use of constructed ideology for the benefit of power, which, according to the proclaimed ideology, is guided by goodness, truth and justice. Ultimately, however, the philosopher knows that the law he establishes is his construct, a nomos established in the name of the good, which is necessary because the law of physis alone is insufficient for the organization of the political system. Yet he must invoke a transcendent source of law to mask his usurpation. Plato is not an advocate of sole authority:
“Neither Sicily nor any state,” proclaims my conviction, “should be subject to the omnipotence of any man; laws should be subject only.
Plato”s Laws are devoted to the rules by which the state should be governed. They deal with the organization of the state, not the perfect one, based on friendship and inhabited by gods and sons of God, but the second one after it (deutera politeia), the best one that can be created, having the first one constantly as a model. Laws are necessary in it precisely because of this imperfection. Their primary function is to keep the citizens virtuous, enabling them to live in a happiness which they would not experience without laws. The ultimate goal of political life, and therefore of the state, is education in virtue. The state is therefore first and foremost a pedagogical institution. Since the power of the state imitates the power of God, and since the condition of virtue is the maintenance of a proper hierarchy, the gods must be honored, and knowledge of them is the highest knowledge and wisdom. The warp of the system, necessary for its continuance, is the council, whose members are to be the best in order to exercise divine governance by virtue of their supreme knowledge of the ultimate purpose of the state, to which all its activities must be subordinate. They must therefore possess a knowledge of virtue if they are to implement it to their subordinates, as well as a knowledge of the gods, based on the knowledge of the soul, which “existed before anything was born into life, is immortal and governs all bodies”.
The ideal state is based on the division of tasks, and just as the three parts of the soul correspond to the three virtues, so they should correspond to the three states of society: the state of scholars (rulers-philosophers) who take care of the rational management of the state and enable the other citizens to lead a rational and virtuous life; the state of guards (military) who take care of the internal and external security of the state, and the state of breadwinners, ensuring the supply of necessary material goods to the community. Plato placed great emphasis on the hierarchy of society. He identified the fate of the state with that of the ruling class. For a state to be sustainable, it needs a strong aristocracy. This must be achieved through a kind of collectivism. Its essence lies in the fact that the aristocrats must be equal to each other, so that they do not envy each other and do not divide within the group. Any division is a change, and this according to Plato must be avoided. He preached the so-called myth of blood and earth, according to which people from different social groups have a certain metal in them. Thus, philosophers – gold, guards – iron, and breadwinners – bronze. Plato believed that the highest class must remain “pure”. He does not allow mixing of different metals, because any mixture is a change and leads to degeneration.
The state should be ruled by the wisest, that is, by philosophers, because only they possess true knowledge. Only they can recreate in their minds the vision of an ideal state, the realization of which they will strive to achieve. It is worth noting here an important difference between what Socrates and Plato understood by the term philosopher. For Socrates, a philosopher is a person who seeks knowledge; for Plato, it is a proud possessor of knowledge.
The overriding value for Plato is justice. However, this concept is understood quite differently than it is by us today. For Plato, the most important thing was the state and its welfare. Everything that leads to the good of the state is good. Even lying to those in power is positive if it serves a higher purpose, namely the good of the state. What is just for Plato is for everyone to do their part, to give back to everyone what is due to them.
The basis of statehood is education. The most talented should continue their education by passing through successive levels of “initiation” corresponding to successive stages of recollection of the world of ideas. The state of philosophers should be the product of education and careful selection. This education should include 10 years of study in mathematics, astronomy, and harmony (music) theory, 5 years of dialectic study, and 15 years of practical political activity. The two higher states should devote themselves entirely to the good of the community, renounce selfishness and private property (including women and children). Plato did not want to initiate too young people because he thought they had too much enthusiasm and were inclined to reform. And any reform is change, which is a bad thing.
Plato conducted a critique of existing state systems. In his opinion, the rule of the best (aristocracy) develops into the rule of the bravest (timocracy), then into the rule of the rich (oligarchy), changed by a coup by democracy, paving the way for the rule of the individual (tyranny). The transition from aristocracy to timocracy is caused by the ignorance of the guardians. Further degeneration is caused by the moral corruption of the citizens. Only after experiencing the worst system is the citizen able to see and appreciate the excellence of aristocracy. Plato himself tried unsuccessfully to put his ideas into practice in Sicily. Then his ideas of the state became the basis of medieval concepts, in which philosophers were replaced by clergymen, and guards – knights.
Plato”s theory of politics and model of the state received a mixed reception. Boethius, his staunch apologist, wrote: “After all, you yourself with your own mouth have sanctified this principle of Plato: “”Blessed shall be those republics which are either governed by lovers of wisdom, or in which it would so happily happen that their rulers would aspire to the love of wisdom”.” In turn, Cicero claimed that Plato created:
“a state rather desirable than actually expected, and not such that it could exist, but such that the laws governing political phenomena could be discerned in it”.
Karl Marx believed that the state described by Plato was modeled on the Egyptian state, which Isocrates was to parody in his work Busiris. Twentieth-century criticism, in particular Karl Popper”s The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945), published after World War II, saw Plato as a precursor to totalitarianism due to his postulation of complete rationing of all aspects of life. Hans-Georg Gadamer argues that Plato”s utopian state is a heuristic utopia that should not be put into practice or even used as a reference point for political action, since its purpose is to demonstrate how a state built on theoretical assumptions such as the supremacy of the first principle (the good) would be organized. Leftist intellectual Nicola Chiaromonte argues similarly:
“No reality would be more monstrous and grotesque than the practical realization of Plato”s state.”
According to Karl Popper, Plato betrayed his teacher Socrates, who professed humanitarian and democratic ideals. Plato, according to Popper, treats the working class like cattle without subjectivity, which is connected with the Platonic concept of justice as doing what belongs to everyone.
Popper”s arguments were met with criticism from Leo Strauss and Eric Voegelin, whose view Popper is:
“devoid of philosophical familiarity, a primitive ideological nut, so that he is unable to even approximate correctly the contents of a single page of Plato. Reading is a waste of time for him; he lacks the knowledge to understand the author he is reading.”
According to Strauss, Plato”s state is not a model of a perfect state, but a dialectical exercise for young men, as indicated by the contradictions in the “city made of words” model, the use of Socratic irony, and the alegoretic. Strauss cites Cicero in arguing that:
“Plato”s work does not show the best system – rather, it approximates the nature of what is political – the nature of the city.”
Plato”s State, according to Strauss, is not natural, but a human creation made possible only “by abstracting from eros.” In 1978 there was a panel discussion with Allan Bloom, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Eric Voegelin and Frederick Lawrence on Plato”s State. Simon Blackburn published a “biography” of Plato”s State in 2006.
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Plato”s essential exposition of cosmology is found in the dialogue Timaeus, which treats “on the nature of all things” (the work is more of a treatise, with the speech of the title character, the Pythagorean of Locrea, forming its essential part. The order of the argument is announced by Kritias:
“We decided to have Timaeus speak first, beginning with the origin of the cosmos and ending with human nature, because he is the best astronomer among us and has put in the most effort to study the nature of the world.”
The creation of the cosmos is described by Plato in the words of the myth, whose central figure is the (s)creator – demiurge, also referred to as the good god (theos agathos). The goodness that belongs to him becomes a part of the world through his benevolent creative activity:
“Let us try to explain why the Creator caused this world to be born as well. We answer: he was good! And he who is good never feels any jealousy towards anyone. He, therefore, being free from it, greatly desired that everything should be as much like him as possible. If anyone accepts this opinion of wise men as the main reason for the creation of the world, he is acting very wisely. Since God willed that all things should be good, and that there should be no evil, as far as possible, therefore he took the whole stock of visible things, which were not in a state of peace, but in inert and chaotic motion, and brought them out of disorder into order, because he considered order to be incomparably more valuable than disorder. Well, it was neither then nor ever permitted for the best being to do something that was not the most beautiful. Upon reflection, he observed that of naturally visible things, considered in their totality, no thing devoid of reason can ever be more beautiful than that which is endowed with reason; and that, on the other hand, it is impossible that any thing can have reason without a soul. Under the influence of this reflection, he created the world, uniting reason with the soul, and the soul with the body, in order that the work done by him might naturally be the most beautiful and the best possible. Consequently, according to probabilistic reasoning, it must be said that this world is alive, is endowed with soul and reason, and is born of the providence of God.”
The cited passage, belonging to the initial parts of the dialogue, contains the basics of cosmology, which will be developed in the following parts. The mythical demiurge transforms disorder (ataxia) into order (taxis) through his providence (pronoia). The ordered sensual world – the cosmos – is a living creature endowed with mind and soul (dzoon empsychon ennoun). The cosmos is a representation of the perfect and most beautiful living being – the Primordial (paradeigma). More specifically, the cosmos is created in the image of the Primordial, and its creation is mediated by the demiurge, who is regarded by Francis Cornford as a symbol belonging to the mythological narrative, and who only in the later medio- and neo-Platonic tradition rises to the rank of the prototype of the monotheistic Creator God. The object of this process – the shaping of the cosmos – is not, however, the cosmos itself, but the disordered universe to which the creator gives order – for this is the root meaning of the word kosmos (order, ornament).
The demiurge personally creates only the Soul, the co-ruler deities, and individual human souls. The rest of the cosmos is created indirectly, primarily by means of the immortal Soul (often referred to in literature as the “soul of the world” – Plato, however, simply calls it psychē). The origin of the Soul, the principle of all motion, is described in Timaeus 34c-37c. Plato describes the dialectical emergence of the building blocks of the Soul:
“From a being that is indivisible and always the same, and from a divisible being that arises in bodies, he mixed a third kind of being that is intermediate between the two; it has both the nature of that which is always the same and that of the other also. In this way, he placed it in the middle between the indivisible and that which is divided into bodies. He then took these three beings and blended them all into one form. This second nature refused to be mixed with that which is always the same, so he made them cohere by violence.
The soul is thus a blending of opposites. First the demiurge unites the indivisible and always the same being with the divisible and arising from bodies. In this way, he obtains the third form, which is the fusion and union of these opposites. Then all three forms – the opposites and their synthesis – are blended into one idea, which is the actual building block of the Soul. Plato then describes the geometric properties of the Soul – it has a dynamic structure consisting of two rotating circles – the outer circle of the same and the inner circle of the non-identical. The outer circle is unitary, while the inner circle is composed of seven smaller circles. Because of this unity, the outer circle is considered more perfect than the inner circle. The description of the geometry of the Soul is followed by a discussion of the relationship of the Soul”s movement to human cognition, that is, the process by which individual individual souls recognize their kinship with the cosmic Soul.
According to Plato, the immortal human soul consists of three parts: the rational (the logistikon), the valiant (the thymoeides) and the lustful (the epithymetikon). In the dialogue The State, Plato presents this tripartite division of the human soul, immediately linking it to political and social issues. The three levels of the soul correspond to three types of people – those who love wisdom, those who love glory, and those who love profit. The society of the city of Kallipolis designed by the debaters is to consist of three castes corresponding to these three types of people: rulers, craftsmen and merchants. Justice is understood as a state of balance between three elements, which correspond to the three cardinal virtues – wisdom, fortitude and prudence.
“- So I ask you,” I replied, “listen, do I speak to the point. What we accepted at the very beginning, at the founding of the city, as an absolute postulate, that”s what – or something like that – is justice, according to my opinion. And this is what we adopted and what we often said, if you remember: that every citizen should occupy himself with one thing, that for which he would have the greatest inborn disposition (…). And that doing one”s own thing, and not playing with this and that, is justice, we have heard from many others, and we have said it ourselves more than once. (…) So (…) this is what is done in a certain way, this is what justice is ready to be – to do one”s own thing. And do you know what testimony I rely on? (…) It seems to me (…) that among the things we took into account in the state, after prudence, fortitude and wisdom, what was left was that which enabled all of them to take root, and to those who were rooted ensured that they would last as long as they did. For we said that justice would be what would be left of those, if we found these three.”
Psychology thus outlined remains in close connection not only with politics, but also with cosmology. For the psychogenesis presented in Timaeus is crowned by the connection between human cognition and the movement of the two revolving circles of the cosmic Soul, in which the individual soul participates:
“And thought becomes true in both cases: if it concerns the other, and if it concerns that which is identical with itself; thought runs in that which moves itself, and runs without sound or noise. And when the thought concerns something that is perceptible, and the other wheel runs evenly and reports its movement throughout the soul, then strong and true opinions and beliefs arise. And when thought refers to the objects of thought, and the good course of the wheel of identity is able to indicate this, then of necessity the work of the mind is done and knowledge is created. If anyone were to say that mind and knowledge reside in any other object and not in the soul, he would say anything else rather than the truth.
The epistemological action of the individual is thus connected with harmony in the cosmic Soul – the correct perception of what is sensuous results in the circle of what is different moving evenly. In an analogous way Plato describes reasoning concerning what belongs to the realm of pure thought – it is connected with the harmonious movement of the circle of what is identical. Such a deep connection between human reasonableness and the cosmic Soul seems justified by the fact that they share a common building block, which is the fruit of the dialectical psychogenesis of the Timaeus.
The mythological narrative stops in the middle of Timaeus to give way unexpectedly to theoretical considerations laying the foundations for the natural sciences based on mathematical apparatus that are practiced and developed to this day. Experts in Plato”s philosophy claim that this breakthrough is connected with the recognition that the cosmos is governed by two principals – Reason (nous) and Necessity (ananke), which is subject to “rational urging. The first part of the dialogue, centered around the mythical figure of the demiurge, focused exclusively on the activity of Reason, ignoring Necessity. The recognition of Necessity as the world-creating principal that opposes Reason is intertwined with the appearance of the concept of ill. Although the first notion of matter sensu stricto (hyle) appeared only in Aristotle, Plato”s illora is undoubtedly its prefiguration. The word chora itself means in Greek of that time the land belonging to the polis and located outside its strict borders. Sick is referred to using the following metaphors: “a shelter for all that is born” (pases geneseos hypodoche) and the “nurturer” or “hostess (tithene) of “that which is born, moistened and inflamed”, which are supposed to refer to a certain “invisible thing, which has no form, which accepts everything, which participates in what can be grasped by reason, in a way that is very dark and difficult to understand”. Interest in the concept of the ill has intensified especially since the publication of Jacques Derrida”s well-known commentary; it is sometimes interpreted as referring to matter, space, matter identical with space, and also – because of its almost exclusively negative characteristics – as the Radically Other, tout autre, which takes on all characteristics without taking on any form at all.
Plato then formulates the theory of primordial elements. Drawing on the tradition of Ionian natural science and Pythagoreanism, Plato lays the foundation for a mathematical description of the physical world. Although the Pythagoreans had already linked mathematics with cosmology, it was not until Plato that it became possible to separate the mathematical apparatus from the object to which it was applied, thanks to the ontological difference between being (to it) and becoming (genesis) – that is, between ideas and sensuality, between the mathematical and the natural. Each of the five elements is assigned a separate regular polyhedron, the so-called Platonic solid, whose peculiarity lies in the possibility of its construction from appropriately connected equilateral triangles and squares. Plato also uses atomism here – the geometric construction of the polyhedron is to be the shape of the atoms of a given element. The atoms of fire are tetrahedrons, earth – cubes, air – octahedrons, and water – icosahedrons. The fifth element to which the icosahedron corresponds – the last of the five regular polyhedrons – was to be used by the (s)creator to “paint the universe.” Later tradition developed the theory of elements or elements originally derived from Empedeklos by adding ether as the fifth.
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Plato in the State defines music as the service of the Muses. In the Phaedo, he says that “philosophy is the greatest service to the Muses”. In Plato”s dialogues, music is considered on several levels: technical, practical, theoretical, and spiritual. In the Phaedo, there is a distinction between “popular music” (mousike demodes) and “absolute music” (megiste mousike), where the latter is identified with philosophy. Plato points to the similarity between the practice of music and philosophy in the Feast, comparing the activities of Martius and Socrates.
In audible music, Plato distinguishes: harmony, rhythm, and word (logos). The empirical theory of music is discussed in The State (book III) in the context of its socio-educational influence. Plato refers to Damon”s concept of musical ethos, according to which each musical scale corresponded to a certain state of the soul. The philosopher allowed for two (out of probably seven) musical tonalities: Doric (“masculine, energetic”) and Phrygian (“requesting, persuasive”). These were meant to exert positive affects, as opposed to moduses that sounded “weepy,” “drunk,” or too low – such as the Ionic and Lydian scales (from the f sound) and the Mixolydian (from the h sound) and Syntonolydian scales. With regard to rhythm, he also recommended conservatism, claiming that “one should beware of breakthroughs and novelties in music, for this is a dangerous thing in general. There is never a change of style in music without an upheaval in fundamental political matters”. In Plato”s opinion, harmony and rhythm had the greatest impact on the soul, which is why he considered “service to the Muses” to be the best education. The author of the State ascribed to music an educational function, including a propaedeutic one. Music in the State is an activity belonging to paideia, understood not only as the education of citizens, but also as a process of training dialecticians. The preparatory education of future philosophers included: arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music. The connection between astronomy and music was particularly emphasized:
“Bodaj that just as the eyes were built for astronomy, I continued-that again the ears are built for harmonic motion, and these two branches of science are like two sisters, as the Pythagoreans say, and we agree with them, Glaukon.
Plato”s thought influenced the views of St. Augustine and Boethius. Both emphasized the close relationship between the mathematical sciences and music. Boethius is credited with including music in the canon of liberal arts he formulated, in which it was an element of the quadrivium. Music as a means of disciplining emotionality and serving to maintain social ties was understood, among others, by the creators of Renaissance literary utopias, Thomas More.
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“No philosopher had more to say about love than Plato,” claims Charles Kahn. Plato”s philosophy of love(English) is dealt with mainly in two dialogues – dating from the so-called mature epoch1 of his work – namely, the “Feast” and the “Phaedrus”. The basic social context of Plato”s erotology is homosexuality and pederasty. Pederasty in ancient Athens was strongly political and pedagogical, and some scholars even consider it as one of the fundamental social relations enabling the maintenance of an intergenerational community of political elites. Unlike pederasty, homosexual relations between men of equal social status, though common, were considered highly problematic and faced stigmatization. Athenian women were disenfranchised and enjoyed an inferior social and cultural position; hence all heterosexual relations were generally valued lower than homosexual ones, generally attributing to them only a hygienic and procreative dimension.
The modern idiom “platonic love” denotes love that is pure, incorporeal, ideal, and devoid of sensual fulfillment. However, at least since the time of the Renaissance Platonists, there has been an awareness in European culture of the profound problematic nature and complexity of Platonic erotology, the reception of which has been particularly hampered by the glaring cultural differences between the Ancient Greek world and Christian and post-Christian Europe. The philosophical way of life proclaimed by Plato is not asceticism or celibacy. In the Phaedrus, Socrates says that “nowhere is it written that only bad people must come together and brave people cannot”. Socrates himself was married to Xanthypus, and his lovers included Aristodemus, Apollodorus, Agathon and Alkibiades, as well as – according to some accounts – Aspasia, the prototype for Diotima described by Plato in the Feast. Plato calls Socrates” disciples his lovers, e.g. in the Feast Apollodorus is called “the most devoted of Socrates” lovers”. However, this does not necessarily imply a pederastic relationship. Admittedly, Plato claims that there is no greater good for a young “man than a good lover (erastes) from his earliest youth,” and that “that which should guide a man through life” is Eros. However, the figure of Socrates is shown perversely in the Feast, from the active figure of the lover (erastes) he transforms into the passive figure of the beloved (eromenos), spurning the advances of Charmides, Euthydemus, and Alkibiades, “whom he first seduced as a lover, only to ultimately prove himself a beloved,” preferring over the latter the person of Agathon, which may symbolize Socrates” turning to the good itself (Gr. agathon). As far as Plato himself is concerned, love epigrams attributed to him, addressed to addressees such as Agathon, Aster, Alexis, Phaedrus, as well as to the heta Archeanassis and to Xanthis, have survived. Aristippus of Cyrene, in his work On the Promiscuity of the Ancients, claims that Plato had an affair with the midwife Xanthypus before she became the wife of Socrates. Ficino does claim that Plato lived a celibate life and that the legend of his erotic life was fabricated by Aristippus, who made up “licentious songs to harlots and boys in order to ensure his own freedom of transgression with the false example of the great philosophers. However, Walter Pater believes that:
“He who in the Symposium describes so vividly the path or ladder of love must have known it all – all this, this eroticism – must undoubtedly have known all the customs of lovers in a literal sense. Thus the properties of personal intercourse form his conception of the invisible world of ideas. So in this we are to look for the mystery of Plato: Plato is a lover.”
In the Laws, Plato problematizes sexual intercourse from the point of view of legislation designed in the dialogue of the state. The proxy for determining the ethical and social character of intercourse is shame and concealment:
Let the doing of such things in secret, therefore, be with them a thing of beauty, a custom introduced by habit and unwritten law, and the doing of such things not in secret be ugly, but not so as not to be done at all.
“The Feast” by Plato describes the symposium (Gr. drinking together), the central practice of Greek social life, following a communal meal. The assembled men deliver eulogies in praise of Eros in a private rhetorical contest, one of the typical entertainments of the elite of the time; Socrates is the last to speak. Socrates” eulogists describe 1) the ethical-political, 2) the cosmic, and 3) the henological aspects of Eros. Erotic experience turns out to be 1) a path of ethical formation, learning to distinguish between good and evil; Eros is also described as 2) a cosmic force pervading the whole of nature. Aristophanes presents the famous myth of the androgyne, describing human bodies as halves of ancient powerful beings, threatening the Olympian gods themselves, and therefore cut in two. He defines Eros as 3) the universal drive to complete oneself and to wholeness – to the lost original unity (to hen). Eros is defined as “one differing in itself, at the same time agreeing with itself,” which seems to be the origin of later henology – the science of one, developed in Sophist and Parmenides. Eros thus turns out to be a figure of the highest principle, also called unity and goodness by Plato.
Socrates, beginning his speech, emphasizes the relational aspect of Eros, the necessity of its being directed toward a specific object. Then he recalls his conversation with Diotima, the mysterious priestess of Mantinea, who initiates him into the mysteries of Eros. The literary context of the conversation with Diotima, especially the terminology used, indicates a conscious reference to the Eleusinian mysteries. Diotima, the only female speaker in Plato”s dialogues, describes Eros as a daimon, an intermediary between humans and the gods, to whom on the epistemological level corresponds the intermediate role of thought between ignorance and knowledge. Eros is characterized by a dialectic nature – he is mythologized as the son of Affluence and Poverty, always having something already and always looking for something more, as a wanderer – eternally unsatisfied, constantly losing what he acquires. His function is to fertilize what is beautiful. At this point begins the crucial link between Eros and the theory of ideas in Platonic eroticism: Eros first turns to the beauty in the body, then to beautiful deeds, beautiful sciences, and finally to beauty itself – the idea. The eternally unsatisfied Eros, identified with the philosopher, turns out to be the pure drive towards eternity and immortality, the “lover of the gods” leading towards the perception of ideas.
After Socrates” speech, the drunken Alkibiades, his young lover, an ambitious politician and speaker, arrives unexpectedly at the symposium and delivers a final, additional speech in which he praises not Eros but Socrates-his restraint, self-control, and unflinching courage on the battlefield at Potidja. Socrates, described by him as most erotic, was said to have rejected his advances, replying: “let us consider what is good for us, and so let us then do”. He does not, however, resolve what would ultimately be good.
Alkibiades” speech is one of the main arguments against the interpretation of Platonic eroticism as radically abstracting from corporeality and sexuality. The erotic initiation into the theory of ideas described by Diotima, on the other hand, is a prefiguration of the myth of the cave in the “State” – the movement of departure towards the Sun, which must be followed by a return, equivalent to a dialectical synthesis. In the dynamic of the “Feast,” the mark of this return is precisely the speech of Alkibiades, describing the actual erotic experience and Socrates as the embodiment of the idea of Eros. Socrates, as the most erotic, turns out to be the philosopher par excellence, the figure of goodness itself and the personification of the first principle, which at first appears negative, and only later – in an intimate relationship – reveals its hidden inner face.