What were Plato's main ideas as presented and developed in his early dialogues?

The early dialogues are very argumentative, and they display the Socratic method. Socrates is the main character, who begins by asking a question. conclusions are not reached so much as questions are raised and clarified. The subject is morality, beginning with shared values such as piety or justice and then demonstrating how little is really known about them.

In the Meno, Socrates plies his questions toward the more positive end of showing how knowledge is innate in the soul. Meno is an uneducated slave boy from whom Socrates extracts knowledge of geometry through a series of skillful questions. Socrates concludes that because the soul acquired knowledge before birth, what we know is not learned, but recollected.

What topics are addressed in Plato's middle works?

Plato's doctrine of immortality is taken up in the Phaedo, Republic, and Phaedrus. Plato thought that the human soul survives the death of the body. However, the soul's memories of its life are washed clean in the River Lethe; the soul then returns as the soul of another person to live a new life from birth. Also in these works, Plato develops his notion of forms, first introducing them in the Phaedo and going on to define them as eternal, changeless, and immaterial. The relationship between real things to the forms is one of participation. A particular cat that might be your pet, for instance, is a cat because it participates with the form of a cat. While your cat might squint or cough up fur balls, the ideal form cat would not be subject to such irregularities. However, not only neutral and beautiful things have their forms, but everything does. That is, bad cat eyesight and fur balls would also have forms in which they participate. In other words, there is the idea or form of a cat that includes all that makes a cat a cat, and then there is the appearance of your particular pet.

How does Plato define a "just city" in his Republic?

In the Republic, Plato's theory of forms reaches its full development as he presents a (to him) utopian way of life. In order to understand justice in the individual, he sets out to describe a just city (the individual "writ large"). The main political principle of

What is Plato's simile of the cave?

Plato introduces the simile of the cave in the Republic to convey the power of the experience of forms and describe their importance. It is his metaphysics in a poetic nutshell. Imagine a cave where prisoners are chained to the wall and the only objects they can see are shadows of things carried behind a fire in back of them. If a prisoner is freed, he will first encounter the objects in the cave whose shadows he has seen before. If he ascends out of the cave, imagine his amazement when he sees these objects, and the rest of the world, in full sunlight. Imagine also how his fellow prisoners might react if he attempts to relate what he has seen to them. The cave represents normal existence and perception, and the objects in sunlight are the world of the forms.

justice is a kind of division of labor that is mirrored in the tri-part division of the human being, or soul, into body, emotions and spirit, and reason. (For Plato, what we experience as the body belonged to the realm of mere appearance.) Just as human beings are happiest when their reason rules, it is necessary that the ideal city be ruled by those in whom reason is most perfect: namely, philosopher kings and queens.

Below the rulers are a guardian class of police and soldiers, who correspond to the spirited part of an individual soul, and at the bottom are the mechanics, servants and farmers, who are like the appetites, or an individual's physical body.

To ensure that the rulers love and serve their city above all else, Plato suggests that the family be abolished. In his social structure, men and women do not have to base their lives on their biological reproductive roles. Private property is unnecessary, too, as are monogamous sexual relationships or traditional marriage. The smartest, healthiest, and altogether best boys and girls will be specially trained, beginning with a simple diet, plain living conditions, and exercise in the open air.

Because the poets lie and teach impiety, there will be no literature in the new curriculum. In young adulthood, the young rulers will be taught mathematics and philosophy. At the age of 35, they will be sent out into the world for 15 years to serve the community as lower administrators, police, and soldiers. At the age of 50, they will be ready to rule, all the more so because it will be against their desire to devote the rest of their lives to study of the forms. (Plato, like many since him, believed that those who do not wish to rule are the very ones who should rule.)

< Prev   CONTENTS   Next >