Philosophy of Religion

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Introduction to Plato

Plato (427-347 BCE) was born into a wealthy and noble family in Athens. He was preparing for a career in politics when the trial and eventual execution of Socrates (399 BCE) changed the course of his life. He abandoned his political career and turned to philosophy. He opened a school on the outskirts of Athens dedicated to the Socratic search for wisdom. Plato's school was known as the Academy. It is generally regarded as the first university in western history. It remained open from 387 BCE until when it was eventually closed by the Christian Emperor Justinian I in 529 CE.

Unlike his teacher Socrates, Plato was both a writer and a teacher. His writings are in the form of dialogues. In these dialogues Plato places Socrates as the principal speaker. It is therefore sometimes difficult to know where Socrates' philosophy ends and Plato's begins.

Plato's most famous teaching is known as the Allegory of the Cave. It can be found in Book VII of Plato's best-known work, 'The Republic'. In the Allegory Plato described symbolically the predicament in which mankind finds itself and proposes a way of salvation. The Allegory presents most of Plato's major philosophical assumptions:

  • the belief that the world revealed by our senses is not the real world but only a poor copy of it, and that the real world can only be apprehended intellectually
  • the concept that knowledge cannot be transferred from teacher to student, but rather that education consists in directing student's minds toward what is real and important and allowing them to apprehend it for themselves
  • his conviction that the universe is ultimately good
  • the conviction that enlightened individuals have an obligation to the rest of society, and that a good society must be one in which the truly wise are the rulers

The Republic is really a dialogue on justice. It is often regarded as a utopian blueprint for society. The Republic is dedicated toward a discussion of the education required of a rulers - the so-called "Philosopher-Kings".

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