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"The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato."
Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology

Platōn (Πλάτων, Plátōn, circa 428/427 – 348/347 BC) was a Greek philosopher during the Classical period in Ancient Greece. He founded the Platonist school of thought and the Academy, the first institution of higher learning on the European continent.

Plato was born in Athens to a wealthy and aristocratic family; his father was Ariston, descended from Codrus; and his mother Perictione, from Solon. He profited by the educational facilities afforded young men of his class in Athens. He met Socrates as a young man and studied under him, and Socrates' influence on Plato was a decisive mark in Plato's own philosophical career. Even before meeting him, Plato developed an interest in the earlier philosophers and in schemes for the betterment of political conditions in Athens. He even devoted himself to poetry at an early age, but all these interests, under the guidance of Socrates, were subsumed into the pursuit of wisdom, to which Plato firmly devoted himself.

Plato, whose family had long played a prominent part in Athenian politics, was expected to follow the same course, but he declined, disgusted by the violence and corruption of Athenian political life, and especially sickened by the execution of Socrates in 399. He then sought a cure for the ills of society not in politics, but in philosophy, and arrived at the lasting conviction that the ills of society will persist until philosophers became rulers or rulers philosophers.

Some time in the early fourth century BC, Plato established the Academy in Athens, the first institution devoted to philosophical research and teaching, and the prototype of all western universities. Aristotle was one of Plato's most notable students, but he disagreed with him on a lot of ideas, like his theory of forms and how these forms can be "separated" from material things. He also travelled extensively, notably to Sicily as political adviser to Dionysius II, the ruler of Syracuse.

After his return from his third journey to Sicily, Plato devoted himself unremittingly to writing and teaching until his eightieth year, when, as Cicero writes, he died in the midst of his intellectual labors.

Plato's influence on philosophy was massive, and came to be at least on par with Aristotle.

Major Works

  • Euthyphro: A Socratic dialogue that raises questions about religious piety and its relation to reason. It is the source of the Euthyphro dilemma, which asks: "Is the pious thing being loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is being loved by the gods?"
  • Apology: Socrates defends his actions of cross-examining other Athenians. Can be argued to be a defense of philosophy as a whole.
  • Crito: Socrates refuses to disobey the law, even if it means saving his life.
  • Phaedo: Centers on death and immortality in general. It ends with the death scene of Socrates.
  • Cratylus: Centers on the origin and nature of language.
  • Theaetetus: Centers on knowledge transcending sense perception.
  • Sophist: About "the being of becoming (or change)".
  • Statesman: It is about (surprise!) the statesman.
  • Parmenides: Centers on the One and whether plurality is an illusion. This is also the only Socratic dialogue in which Socrates loses the argument, to Parmenides, his much older and wiser predecessor.
  • Philebus: About the relation between pleasure and wisdom.
  • Symposium: Centers on love and beauty.
  • Phaedrus: About "Platonic" love and beauty. Also Socrates' disapproval of books.
  • Charmides: Centers on temperance, or self-control, or moderation.
  • Laches: About courage.
  • Lysis: About friendship.
  • Euthydemus: Focuses on the relation between thought and words.
  • Protagoras: About whether all evil is due to ignorance.
  • Gorgias: Focuses on how to live, especially whether it is worse to do evil or suffer evil.
  • Meno: Centers on learning, which Plato says is really "recollection".
  • Greater Hippias: About the relation between goodness, pleasure, and beauty.
  • Lesser Hippias: Asks whether it is better to do wrong intentionally or unintentionally.
  • Ion: About artistic inspiration compared with philosophical wisdom.
  • Republic: Centers on justice and its "profit" in souls and states. Most famous for its parable of the cave.
  • Timaeus: About the making of the universe.
  • Critias: An incomplete dialogue about Atlantis.
  • Laws: A more practical revision of the political aspects of the Republic.
  • Seventh Letter: Plato writes how he attempted to implement some of the reforms as proposed in the Republic, and how he was so unsuccessful he narrowly escaped with his life.

Tropes included in the works of Plato:

  • Ambiguous Syntax: The Sophists sometimes employ these when making their arguments, like Dionysodorus in Euthydemus when he is speaking with Socrates:
    Dionysodorus: You know then what the proper business of each craftsman is? For instance, you know whose business it is to work metal?
    Socrates: Yes, I do—the blacksmith's.
    Dionysodorus: Well then, what about making pots?
    Socrates: The potter's.
    Dionysodorus: And again, to slaughter and skin, and to boil and roast the pieces after cutting them up?
    Socrates: The cook's.
    Dionysodorus: Now if a man does the proper business, he will do rightly?
    Socrates: Very much so.
    Dionysodorus: And the proper business in the case of the cook is, as you say, to cut up and skin? You did agree to that didn't you?
    Socrates: Yes, I did, but forgive me.
    Dionysodorus: Then it is clear that if someone kills the cook and cuts him up, and then boils him and roasts him, he will be doing the proper business. And if anyone hammers the blacksmith himself, and puts the potter on the wheel, he will also be doing the proper business.
  • Arch-Enemy: Sophists — professional rhetoricians, basically — are the most recurring antagonists in the dialogues. Plato seemed to have a particular antipathy towards a sophist named Gorgias, as he is the main character in his most distinctly anti-sophist dialogue (appropriately named Gorgias.)
  • Author Tract: Plato's later Socratic dialogues became this over time. Early dialogues like Meno give what kind of conversations Socrates might have actually had with his interlocutors and tend to end without reaching a definitive answer so that those who are reading these dialogues could judge the proposed answers for themselves and come to their own conclusions. Starting with the Republic onwards, Socrates becomes a mouthpiece for Plato's philosophical musings and investigations before eventually fading into the background and disappearing.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Averted, yet also mildly played straight. To Plato, Goodness Equals Goodness. That said, he had four names for the "ultimate idea" - "the good", "the one", "the truth", and "the beautiful".
  • Bureaucratically Arranged Marriage: In Laws. The idea was that people should be married according to their ability to produce the finest children, and that men who do not marry before a certain age should be fined a certain amount.
  • Canon Discontinuity: He would censor all disgusting behavior attributed to gods in Classical Mythology.
  • Democracy Is Bad: Plato referred to "democracy" as one of the degenerate forms of government in The Republic, second only to tyranny. However, he's almost certainly not referring to "democracy" as we would understand the term today. He refers to democracy as an excess of liberty, where obeying the law is optional and people are slaves to their own desires. It is likely a critique of Athenian Democracy as it existed during his time (which he absolutely loathed for putting his teacher to death), but Plato's beef isn't so much with the form of government so much as it is with the attitude of its people and rulers. Regardless of what kind of institutions a state has, whether popularly elected or hereditary, if people routinely disobey the law and behave on instinct, it is a democracy. Most modern republics and constitutional governments based on the rule of law are derived from his writings on this particular point, or at least Roman interpretations of them.
  • Divided We Fall: Averting this trope is one reason for the Canon Discontinuity.
  • Due to the Dead: Socrates jokes about in Phaedo: to bury him, they would have to catch him. They will only bury his body.
    Be of good cheer, then, my dear Crito, and say that you are burying my body only, and do with that whatever is usual, and what you think best.
  • Good Feels Good: Part of his philosophy was that living a virtuous life made a person happy in and of itself. That's also how he resolved the above-mentioned problem of the ring: even if the invisible man weren't directly punished, he'd still live a life of extraordinary unhappiness if he did evil things while invisible.
  • Good Republic, Evil Empire: A common theme in his political writings. Plato considered a government that obeyed the rule of law and followed wisdom to be the best of all states, run by merit and working for the good of all people. By contrast, Plato's description of the evils of tyranny are shocking and prescient.
  • Hobbes Was Right: He did not approve of direct democracy as it existed in his day, and believed the best form of government to be, essentially, the rule of the most enlightened and wise men of society. Of course, he predated Hobbes by some thousand years and wouldn't have agreed with him on many other things (like the possibility of finding the wise men of society, to say nothing of their differences in the meaning of the highest good). He did, however, prefer the evils of democracy to the evils of tyranny — which is exactly what you'd get if you screwed up the absolute-rule thing.
  • The Last of These Is Not Like the Others: Plato's last dialogue — The Laws — is the only one that doesn't feature Socrates. It is also one of the few that takes place outside of Athens, the longest by a substantial margin, and the only one to deal strictly with political philosophy.
  • Left Hanging: Several of his dialogues end without answering the question posed at the beginning, perhaps to let the reader consider the proposed answers and draw his own conclusions. Socrates never hesitates to comment on it.
  • Logic Bomb: (See the Anvilicious entry on the YMMV page) If you could explain it, they would already understand in the first place, but you have to explain it to them so they can learn to understand (it could be argued that as it was meant for his students anyway this was its purpose in the first place).
  • Mood Whiplash: Countless instances of 'By Zeus, you're right, Socrates!... I think.' in his dialogues.
  • Philosophical Parable: Used extensively in the dialogues, with the most famous of them being the parable of the cave.
  • Platonic Cave: Trope Namer.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The Philosopher Ruler/King/Guardians.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: In Euthyphro, when the titular character's definitions of piety are skewered by Socrates, he excuses himself in a way that seems like he's just tired of talking about it. Socrates, who was hoping for something he could use to defend himself in his upcoming trial, is somewhat annoyed.
  • The Social Darwinist: In Glaucon Callicles says it is just for the strong to have more than the weak, that it's a natural right to attack them and the latter must submit. Socrates then rebuts this notion.
  • Speech-Centric Work: Many of his works, such as The Republic, are presented as dialogues between two characters.
  • Theseus' Ship Paradox: The Trope Maker, in his dialogue Parmenides. Plutarch, a later Platonist, named and codified this trope in his biography of Theseus.
  • The Treachery of Images: This is one interpretation of his Theory of Forms: the objects that you see in the world are not "real", they are merely reflections of perfect forms that exist in a world beyond this one, which can only be perceived by reason.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Played straight in Republic, where Socrates discusses what lies to tell to lower classes, and why and how people should be "removed" if they are a problem. That said, a combination of Values Dissonance and general misunderstanding of the dialogue have caused people to exaggerate the extent to which this trope is in effect. Plato's issue isn't so much with liberty and/or intellectual or artistic freedom. Rather, he was afraid of the effect that irrational appeals to the passions would have on the ideal state. Because of that, he believed that things such as art and oratory should always be directed towards morally-upright ends, and that public opinion should be molded so that the people would value virtue and a love of wisdom over things such as honor and material pleasure. And, of course, that's assuming that Republic is meant to be a work of political philosophy at all; ever since the Roman Republic, students of Plato have put forth convincing arguments that Republic was a dialogue about justice, not a blueprint for a perfect state. note 
  • Virtue/Vice Codification: One of the first and most famous is found in Republic:
    • Wisdom/Prudence: Giving good counsel for the benefit of others and society. A virtue of rulers.
    • Courage: Discernment in what should be feared. A virtue of soldiers.
    • Temperance: Moderation in all things, control of desire. The virtue of the peasants.
    • Justice: Rendering unto every person their due. The ultimate virtue found in all classes.

Plato in popular culture