Plato - One of the Most Important Philosophers

Fresco of Plato and Aristotle, from Scuola di Atene, by Raphael Sanzio. 1510-11.
Fresco of Plato and Aristotle, from Scuola di Atene, by Raphael Sanzio. 1510-11. CC Flickr User Image Editor

Name: Aristocles [don't confuse the name with Aristotle], but known as Plato
Place of Birth: Athens
Dates 428/427 - 347 B.C.
Occupation: Philosopher

Who Was Plato?

He was one of the most famous, respected, and influential philosophers of all time. A type of love (Platonic) is named for him. We know the Greek philosopher Socrates mostly through Plato's dialogues. Atlantis enthusiasts know Plato for his parable about it in Timaeus and other descriptions from Critias.

He saw tripartite structures in the world around him. His social structure theory had a governing class, warriors, and workers. He thought the human soul contained reason, spirit, and appetite.

He may have founded an institution of learning known as the Academy, from which we get the word academic.

The Name 'Plato': Plato was originally named Aristocles, but one of his teachers gave him the familiar name, either because of the breadth of his shoulders or his speech.

Birth: Plato was born around May 21 in 428 or 427 B.C., a year or two after Pericles died and during the Peloponnesian War. [See Ancient Greece Timeline.] He was related to Solon and could trace his ancestry to the last legendary king of Athens, Codrus.

Plato and Socrates: Plato was a student and follower of Socrates until 399, when the condemned Socrates died after drinking the prescribed cup of hemlock. It is through Plato that we are most familiar with Socrates' philosophy because he wrote dialogues in which his teacher took part, usually asking leading questions -- the Socratic method.

Plato's Apology is his version of the trial and the Phaedo, the death of Socrates.

The Legacy of the Academy: When Plato died, in 347 B.C., after Philip II of Macedonia had begun his conquest of Greece, leadership of the Academy passed not to Aristotle, who had been a student and then teacher there for 20 years, and who expected to follow, but to Plato's nephew Speusippus.

The Academy continued for several more centuries.

Eroticism: Plato's Symposium contains ideas on love held by various philosophers and other Athenians. It entertains many points of view, including the idea that people were originally doubled -- some with the same gender and others with the opposite, and that, once cut, they spend their lives looking for their other part. This idea "explains" sexual preferences.

Atlantis: The mythical place known as Atlantis appears as part of a parable in a fragment of Plato's late dialogue Timaeus and also in Critias.

Tradition of Plato: In the Middle Ages, Plato was known mostly through Latin translations of Arabic translations and commentaries. In the Renaissance, when Greek became more familiar, far more scholars studied Plato. Since then, he has had an impact on math and science, morals, and political theory.

The Philosopher King: Instead of following a political path, Plato thought it more important to educate would-be statesmen. For this reason, he set up a school for future leaders. His school was called the Academy, named for the park in which it was located. Plato's Republic contains a treatise on education.

Plato is considered by many to be the most important philosopher who ever lived.

He is known as the father of idealism in philosophy. His ideas were elitist, with the philosopher king the ideal ruler.

Plato is perhaps best known to college students for his parable of a cave, which appears in Plato's Republic.

Plato is on the list of Most Important People to Know in Ancient History.