Plato Biography
Rafael Sanzio de Urbino / Public domain

Plato Biography

Plato probably was born in Athens or in Aegina in 427 b.C. and died in Athens in 347 b.C. He was an apprentice philosopher of Socrates and teacher of Aristotle. He is recognized for his dialogues, in which he talks about philosophy, metaphysics, epistemology, ontology, ethics, politics, art, and many other topics.

Plato was the son of Ariston and was born in the midst of an aristocratic family, in which some members had usurped the power of Athens after the Peloponnesian War. That is why, despite belonging to the oligarchy, Plato on several occasions showed his rejection of the government that Athens had at that time. This could be seen in his Political, Law and Republic works.

Speusippos, his nephew, who talks about Plato’s early mental agility, talks about his childhood and adolescence. He also says that at first, the philosopher wanted to be an artist and that he was very interested in painting, drama, and poetry, and that he even wanted to write tragedies; but all this changed when Plato began to attend the meetings given by Socrates. And this interest in art quickly changed to a hatred towards them, to the point of promoting, in the construction of their Ideal State, the expulsion of poets.

It is known that, on the other hand, Plato dedicated himself to sports, to corporal exercise and above all to athletic practices and gymnastics. In fact, it has come to be known that “Plato” was not his real name, but Aristocles, and that “Plato” was actually a nickname his gym teacher had given him because of his broad back. Some even believe that he was hunchbacked and that he fought in the Peloponnesian War and in the War of Corinth.

“A man who does not risk anything for his ideas, or his ideas are not worth anything, or man is worth nothing.” Plato

For his part, Aristotle tells that before listening to Socrates, Plato had met Cratylus, who had introduced him in the old discussion of whether the thought is totally empirical or totally rational, inclining it for the first. However, Socrates would have made him change his mind by leading him to define first everything that he wanted to talk about. For this reason, he came to the idea that before the sensible world, there was a reality that could only be known but not experienced, and from this arose his theory of the world of ideas, where the archetypes of each element of the empirical world exist.

On his approach to Socrates, Diogenes Laertius and W. K. C. Guthrie differ. The first believed that Plato met Socrates when he was twenty years old; the second think that he had known him for a long time when he was even fifteen years old. Of both can be rescued then that the first encounter happened between 412 b.C. and 407 b.C. and since then Plato was a staunch disciple and a great friend of Socrates. While there is a discussion about their first meeting, there is also discussion about the last one. The reason for this ambiguity lies in two books by Plato.

In the first, Apologia, narrates that Socrates, while he was convicted for offending the Greek gods and for corrupting the youth, pointed out among the public he believed them his only friends, among whom was Plato. However, in the second, Phaedom, says, through one of his characters, that he himself, Plato, had not been able to go to the trial of Socrates for being sick. On the latter, several hypotheses have been thrown, some accusing Plato of not being as much a friend of Socrates as was thought, but this judgment would not be in relation to the affection shown in all his work. One of the most accepted hypotheses is that perhaps Plato was not because he did not resist the idea of ​​seeing Socrates being judged and punished.

After Socrates died, Plato traveled with some colleagues to Megara, Egypt, Italy and Sicily, where he met different thinkers who would influence their thinking, as is the case of the Pythagoreans, from whom he learned concepts such as harmony; or Parmenides, from which he could develop his idea of ​​soul; or Anaxagoras, from whom he shared the idea that reason flooded everything that existed. Then he returned and bought a property in the vicinity of Athens, where he founded his Academy, through which great thinkers would pass and who would be in service until 529 b.C. Here Plato would share his knowledge until his death in 347 b.C. when he was about eighty.

“All Western philosophy is reduced to a series of notes written in the margin of the pages of Plato.” Alfred North Whitehead

His work can be divided into four moments, responding to the time when he conceived them. The first moment responds to his first dialogues, strongly determined by Socratic thought. In them, we can find Apology, Ion, Crito, Protagoras, Laques, Lysis, Eutifrón, among others. The second moment is determined by his political position and by the first glimpses he made of his theory of ideas. Here we can find works like Gorgias, Euthydemus, Hippias Minor, Crattilo, Menexeno, and Menón, among several others. The third moment is when the theory of ideas and the thought according to which knowledge is remembering is already formed. Typical works of this stage are Fedro, Fedón, República and El Banquete. Finally, the fourth moment is an evaluation that Plato makes about his own ideas, where we find Theaetetus, Parmenides, Politician, Philebus, Sophist, Laws, Timaeus, etc.

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