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Compiled by Anthony Harrison-Barbet


PLATO

(c. 428 — 348 B.C.)

 

RATIONALISTIC DUALISM

Like his teacher Socrates, Plato was born in Athens of a distinguished family. Socrates' death affected him greatly. He spent some time abroad and he was for a while in Syracuse at the court of the tyrant Dionysius, but most of Plato's life was devoted to the famous academy he had founded in Athens in 386 and which attracted students from far and wide. His Academy lectures have not survived, but we have instead the dialogues, which were perhaps intended for a wider readership. Plato's philosophy cannot be seen as a complete or consistent system. Throughout his life he himself constantly subjected his concepts and arguments to sustained critical analysis in an attempt to resolve 'perplexities' (aporiai), and this often gave rise to what appear as inconsistencies within or between the various dialogues. There is also a problem concerning the Socratic content of the early dialogues, but it is now generally accepted that the middle of the Meno marks the emergence of Plato's own original philosophical views.

[Sources: Quotations are taken from a variety of texts, but page numbers are those given in the standard Stephanus edition of Plato's works which most editions now follow.]

 

METAPHYSICS

[1] [gen. 1-3] The doctrine of the Forms. Socrates had sought to discover universal 'definitions' or 'essences'. Plato went further than Socrates in three important respects. (l) He developed the Socratic method of enquiry (into universal 'definitions' or 'essences') to make use of a process of 'division' [see sec. 3 below and also his discussion of 'dialectic' in Republic 533-534] [a]. (2) He did not confine his investigations to ethical concepts such as goodness and justice. (3) He tried to discover the nature or status of these essences, which he calls Forms (eide) or Ideas (ideai). This is a central concern of his metaphysics. However, he did not have a settled view as to what concepts actually have Forms. In parts of his Republic he holds that Forms are the entities that are signified by general concepts (often but controversially equated with 'universals') [b]. Suppose we say of a number of different things (for example, a painting, a woman, the countryside) that they are all beautiful. Plato said that there must be something they have in common which makes them beautiful. This is the general concept; and this designates the Form of Beauty. It would seem that there must be Forms corresponding to all common terms — bed, red, round, and so on [Republic 596]. In the Timaeus [51] he said that there are Forms of natural objects such as the four traditional elements — earth, air, fire, and water; and he probably also believed that there were Forms for natural organisms such as man and dog. However, in Parmenides [l30a-e] he expressed doubts as to whether there are Forms corresponding to dirt, mud, and hair. Elsewhere in the Republic [523-4] a more subtle account is to be found. Plato considered the example of our perception of three of fingers. Regardless of any differences in colour or size, each is seen to be a finger. But the second finger may be said to be both large and small — large in relation to the little finger, but small in comparison with the third finger. Our judgement of this, Plato argued, cannot be one of the senses alone: the intellect must also be involved. Thus we come to make a distinction between the intelligible and the visible. The Forms or essences are now understood to be real intelligible objects, known by the intellect, and are complete, perfect, whole, unchanging n and prior to the mutable, that is, ever-changing, imperfect, particular, 'sensible' objects apprehended through sight, touch, and so on [c][c]. So we may admit Forms of largeness, equality, as well as beauty, justice, and good [c]; whereas such qualities as redness, sweetness, which are merely perceptible, do not have any corresponding Forms. Plato seems also to have admitted Forms of mathematical concepts [d] such as triangularity and roundness, which he regarded as in some sense intermediate between the Forms themselves and physical objects. Beyond referring to Plato's Forms as intelligible essences, which are alleged to 'exist' of themselves eternally, independent of physical objects, it is difficult to say anything about them. By 'independent' is meant that they do not require individual sense objects for their existence.

[2] The relationship of the plurality of individual sensible things to the Forms. It is clear that Plato believed particular things depend on the Forms or 'essences' for their existence (and thereby have a partial reality); Forms are thus both 'final' and 'formal' causes of things [a][a]. Whether the Forms are literally separate from or 'outside' things (the so-called chorismos) [a] is, however, a much-disputed question and one which he himself was particularly concerned with. A sensible thing is made that particular in so far as its matter 'individuates' the general Form [b][b]. But how do particular material things, which are in space and time and are undergoing constant change, relate to the eternal immutable Forms? Can the chorismos be overcome? He often talked of things as 'sharing', participation in, or 'partaking of' the Forms, or as 'imitating' or resembling them [c] [Phaedo l00, Republic 476, Parmenides l30-33] — the Forms being 'paradigms', that is, eternal patterns [c]. However, he was unhappy about this account, and in the Parmenides he examines dialectically [d] a number of difficulties [d]. Of particular interest is the objection Aristotle later dubbed the 'Third Man' argument [see Parm. l3le-2b, l32d-3a; and Aristotle, Metaphys. 990b]. If we consider a Form (say, Man) and a particular instance (say Socrates), then it would seem that the Form and the individual must have something in common, namely a (third) 'Man'. Does this not lead to an infinite regress? It has been argued that for this objection to be sustained there must be an implicit assumption of self-predication — that the Forms themselves have properties. Thus the Form of Beauty might be said to be beautiful. It is not certain that Plato himself was committed to this assumption.

[3] Plato argued [Republic 502-9] that the Forms are not isolated but are connected by virtue of their common origin in the Form of the One [a]. It is clear also from his discussions in the Sophist that the Forms make up a hierarchy [a]. The One, which is, as it were, the Form of all Forms, takes into itself five special Forms: the greatest 'Kinds' (Beauty, Sameness, Difference, Rest, and Motion). These in turn comprehend all other (and hence 'lower') Forms, such as animal, and then man. But how are we to understand the relationship between the Forms and the One and between each other? A foundation for a possible explanation is implicit in Plato's discussion of definition [Sophist 22l-37]. He showed that to achieve the definition of a term we must follow a dialectic process of analysis or division (diairesis) [b], whereby the term to be defined is brought under a wider class or 'genus', other members of the class being distinguished by their possession of appropriate 'differences'. The Form of Man, for example, is the 'lowest species' (atomon eidos) because it cannot be subdivided any further; and it is therefore closest to the individual men immediately below it who belong to the sensible world. Likewise the One and the Many can be reconciled without having to regard sensible things as illusory [c]. Thus the Form Animal is a 'many' in so far as it contains specific Forms of Cat, Fish, Man, and so on. At the same time, as a genus or general class the 'many' is a 'one'. Plato also thought of the Forms themselves as 'blending' with each other. Thus when we say 'A fish is an animal' we mean the Form Fish 'blends' with the Form Animal. However, he argues that not all 'kinds' blend. Motion, for example, can partake of Sameness and Difference (it is the same as itself but different from other kinds), and can blend with Existence: but it does not partake of Rest; the two kinds are mutually exclusive. (It should be noted that in the course of his discussion in Sophist [251-59] Plato would seem to have been feeling his way towards recognising that 'is' or 'exists' [estin] can be used differently in statements of identity and statements of predication or attribution) [d].

 

PHILOSOPHY OF NATURE/ COSMOLOGY

[4] Plato's philosophy of Nature is grounded in his metaphysics. In so far as the One, the Form of Being, is coeternal with and the ultimate unifying and explanatory principle of the Forms, it explains the order found in the world of natural objects [a]. In the Republic the One is tacitly identified with the Absolute Good; while in The Laws [Bk X] he thinks of it as the "best soul" (ariste psuche) [a]. Plato compared it to the sun, which illuminates natural objects so that they can be seen to exist and to have value [Rep. 507-9]. The Good, he said, is the controlling source of truth and intelligence [507], and of the intelligibility of the objects of knowledge, their being and reality; "yet it is not itself that reality, but beyond it, and superior to it in dignity and power" [509]. In the Symposium [2l0-l2] Plato makes Socrates talk of an individual's ascent from sensual love (the gift of the 'daimon' Eros) of beautiful things to physical beauty in general, love of the beauty of the soul, moral beauty, intellectual beauty of the sciences, finally to achieve a vision and love for the Absolute Form of Beauty [b][b]. Thus it would seem that for Plato Absolute Beauty and Absolute Good are equivalent and interchangeable manifestations of the One [c].

[5] [gen. 5] Cosmology: the origin of the world. Plato nowhere suggests that the physical universe was created out of nothing. In the Timaeus [28-30] he supposed that it emerged from an eternal pre-existent material, or 'necessity' (ananke ) [a] (it may be thought of as the 'material cause' of things) [a] through the 'formative' agency of what he calls the Demiurge. What he means by this and its relationship to the One is not entirely clear. He wrote of God as "the maker and father of this universe" [Timaeus 28] — the prime ('efficient') cause of that which comes into being or changes; and in the Republic he referred to God as a craftsman of "all [real] things in Nature" [597]. (And this did not exclude the plurality of gods accepted in popular Greek religion.) And in general he seems to have thought of the Demiurge as the principle of Intelligence or Reason in the Divine or One — not a material principle [b], and indeed probably as a symbol rather than as an actually existent pre-cosmic being. Plato supposed that prior to the production of the universe there existed eternally four factors: primeval matter, the World-Soul the "Receptacle, or Space, of all Becoming" [Timaeus 49], and a "Living being", that is, a world of Forms not yet incorporated in Nature [c]. The primeval matter appears in the Receptacle spontaneously and yet by necessity as the four primary qualities, earth, air, fire, and water, in a state of disorder, undergoing constant change [c]. The Demiurge, as 'efficient' cause [d], conceiving order to be better than disorder, 'took over' the material qualities and organized, patterned or 'formed' them in accordance with the eternal 'living being' of Forms, firstly into two-dimensional surfaces, and then into the many three-dimensional bodies perceptible by the senses [d]. The partially real sensory world of becoming and multiplicity is temporal, time for Plato being what he called "an eternal moving image of . . . eternity", that is, of the One [ibid. 37] [e]. The World-Soul, from which individual souls are also created by the Demiurge, was supposed by Plato to be a composite of Existence, Sameness, and Difference, but intermediate between the Being of the Forms and the Becoming of the world of sense and made out of the same original materials [ibid. 32-7, 42-4, 69] [f]. In effect, therefore, the account offered in the Timaeus may be thought of as an early version of the cosmological argument for God's existence [g].

 

KNOWLEDGE

[6] [gen. 6-7] Knowledge and belief. Plato argued [Republic V, 477/8] that corresponding to natural objects and Forms there are two 'states' of mind. Only that state which relates to the Forms can be said to be knowledge in a strict sense [a] because knowledge must be of what 'is', what is 'real'; and the Forms 'are', in the sense of being ultimate unchangeable essences. Conversely, what 'is not', that is, things which have no kind of being or existence, cannot be objects of knowledge. Our state of mind in such cases is therefore ignorance. What then are we to say of our relationship to the changing objects of Nature, which we perceive through our senses? Such things, said Plato, both 'are' and 'are not'. The finger, for example, is both large and not large: it participates in contrary Forms, but it is not itself a Form. Clearly our perception of these sensible objects (which he understands as involving interference of 'motions' of the body, or 'effluences', with motions of the outside world [Meno 76c, Theaetetus, l53e] ) does not constitute ignorance, yet we cannot be said to know them [b]. Plato called this intermediate state belief. He also supposed that mathematical concepts lie somewhere between belief and knowledge. The various levels of knowledge and belief and their corresponding objects are set out in Plato's 'Divided Line' [Repub. 509-ll] [b]. Knowledge (episteme) is exhibited firstly by intelligence or pure thought (noesis) and then in the secondary sense as mathematical reasoning (dianoia), the respective objects being the pure Forms and mathematical ideas. Under the heading of belief (doxa) Plato listed opinion (pistis) and illusion (eikasia), corresponding to which are physical things and copies of them. The Line therefore illustrates clearly Plato's view that there is a progression from illusion to pure thought, an ascent from the less to the fully real.

[7] A different view of knowledge and belief is also to be found in the Republic [Book X] (and the earlier Meno [97-8]). Whereas in Book V he started from knowledge and tried to account for belief, in Book X his starting point is true belief. In effect his position now is that knowledge is justified true belief [a]. Justification may be grounded either in second-hand reports or on one's own acquaintance with the facts. Plato gives an analogy. The maker of a flute has a great deal of information about the instrument, but only the flute player has direct experience of the workings of flutes and thus only he can give a complete and proper 'account' of how they work and what can be done with them. This constitutes knowledge, doxa now being true belief based on a second-hand account. A more detailed examination of the problem of knowledge is presented in the later dialogue, Theaetetus [l5l-2l0]. Plato firstly rejects the view that knowledge is sense-perception [b], on the grounds that it must be of an object of some kind and be infallible, and because it must involve a process of thought (as when we compare different things with each other) [cf. Republic, 523-4]. He then argues that knowledge cannot be true judgement [c], mainly because he thinks that some judgements may be true without a person knowing it to be. Lastly he looks at a third view, that true belief could be converted into knowledge by the addition of an explanation or account (logos) [d]. This is similar to the view in the Republic, Book X, but now he suggests there are difficulties in understanding what the giving of an account actually means or involves; and he ends on a negative note, suggesting that knowledge can only be of the eternal Forms, belief being of sensory objects. In the Sophist [2l9 ff.] he suggests that we come to have knowledge through a process of definition by genus and difference whereby a particular is brought under a class-concept [e]. Knowledge then consists in the intellectual apprehension of such concepts (and hence real Forms) [e][e]. So it looks as if in these various dialogues Plato has two different views of knowledge: (a) it is a different faculty from belief and has different objects [Republic, Book V, and Theaetetus]; and (b) it has the same objects but differs in that our acquaintance with these objects is accompanied by an intellectual process of 'proof' or explanation [Republic, Book X]. In the much later Timaeus [51] he argues that knowledge (nous) and true opinion are indeed different, in nature and in origin:

One is produced by teaching, the other by persuasion; one always involves truth and rational argument, the other is irrational; one cannot be moved by persuasion, the other can; true opinion is a faculty shared, it must be admitted by all men, intelligence by the gods and only a small number of men.

In the Sophist [262 ff.] Plato also provides a solution to the problem of false judgement [f], which he had attempted to deal with in the Theaetetus. Suppose we say (truly) 'Theaetetus is sitting' and (falsely) 'Theaetetus is flying'. Both statements are meaningful; they are about the individual Theaetetus and the Forms Sitting and Flying. To say it is false that he is flying, that is, 'Theaetetus is not flying', is not to say that he is 'not-being', that is, to deny that he exists. The false belief consists in attributing to an individual some quality other than the one he actually possesses. In terms of Forms we can say that the Sitting, in which Theaetetus actually 'participates', does not blend with the form Flying — which is different from the Form Sitting.

[8] [gen. 8] The origin of knowledge. How is knowledge acquired? Indeed how is it possible? Plato has said that it is the mind that judges that sensible objects must be concrete instances of the Forms. So where does the mind get that knowledge from? Clearly it is not from the senses themselves, for perception gives only doxa [a]. In the Phaedo [72-6] Plato argued that we must have had knowledge of the Forms before we had any sense experience, that is, before we were born. We could not have got knowledge from their sensible instances, because they "fall short of the Forms". A difficulty with this is raised in the Meno [80-6]. To acquire an understanding of a given Form we need to find the 'account' which would transform true belief into knowledge. But if we do not already have knowledge of that Form, how could we recognise the account as being the true one? If we do have the knowledge, then we do not need to acquire it. To deal with this objection Plato gets Socrates, his speaker in the dialogue, to show how an uneducated slave boy can apparently discover a geometrical truth for himself; and he argues that as Socrates had not taught it to the boy he must have known it before birth, had forgotten it when the soul became embodied, but now had been prompted by skilful questioning to recollect it. In the Republic [52l-4l] Plato said that perceptual experience may help us to recall something of this 'innate' knowledge [a], but to gain full knowledge of the Forms requires a long and arduous training in mathematics and philosophy. The ultimate aim is of course intellectual knowledge of the Good (as a manifestation of the One) [b]. He compared this achievement to a kind of 'vision through 'illumination' by the Sun [b] — as illustrated in the simile of the Cave [5l4-2l]. Prisoners tied down in a cave with the fire behind them can see only the shadows on the wall in front of them. If one of them were released and turned round, he would be dazzled by the fire and would not see the cave he would be temporarily blinded by the intense brightness of the Sun. But on regaining his vision he would be able to discern the full reality of the world outside; and it would then be his responsibility to 'enlighten' the prisoners still sitting in the dark cave — to "turn their minds around".

 

PSYCHOLOGY/ PHILOSOPHY OF MIND

[9] [gen. 9-10] The nature of the soul. Plato believed that the material body was 'occupied' by an independent spiritual entity — the soul (psuche) (though in the Timaeus he seems to hold the view that it was created out of the World-Soul which was itself composed of the same fundamental material 'qualities' as the body of the world — see 5f). In the Phaedo [64-7] he regards the soul as the reasoning faculty or intellect, by means of which we can have knowledge of the Forms, [102-7] and that which gives life and activity to the body [a]. It can survive death and can pass from one body to another [b]. Indeed it is one's "true self". He even seems to equate it with the individual person [115]. Yet, in the Republic [Book IV] he thinks of the soul as having three 'functions' or 'aspects' [c]: not only can it be motivated by reason but also it can act from emotion, or as a result of bodily desires. This emotional aspect — which is sometimes called the 'spirited' element — is in fact central to Plato's analysis of psychological conflict; for its role in the mental and moral life of the individual is to give support to the controlling rational element in the face of the demands of the appetite [d]. It is only in cases of bad upbringing that, through 'weakness of will', it gives in to the desires and fails to assist the reason [d]. In the Phaedrus [246] he gives the analogy of a charioteer (the rational element) trying to control two horses, one good (the spirited aspect), the other bad (the appetites). The former is obedient to the charioteer's instructions, but the latter's passion has to be restrained.

These views of the soul give rise to two problems. (l) Is the soul a single unit, or is it composite? (2) What, if anything, actually survives death? Is it the 'reason' alone? Plato seems aware of these issues; and although he did not offer any kind of explanation his general position may be summarized as follows. Reason, as the intellectual principle, is the central feature of the soul, and it is this which survives the body's death. But when it becomes 'embodied' it is, as it were, dragged down and becomes less pure, so that it appears to acquire other aspects such as feelings and desires. It is thus distorted through being coupled with a material body and remote from the 'light', as it were. The practice of philosophy therefore should have as its primary aim 'purification' — the separation from the soul from the bonds of the body [Phaedo 67c] [e].

[10] [gen. 10] Plato's proofs for the soul's immortality — or at least for its pre-embodied existence — are found mainly in the Phaedo. (l) [70-2] Being alive and being dead are opposites. The one state must therefore have come from the other. (2) [72-7] He develops the argument from recollection discussed in the Meno. (3) [78-84] The soul is supposed to have an affinity for the eternal (for example, the unchanging Forms) and therefore must itself be eternal. (4) [l02-7] The soul, being alive, by its nature cannot admit death; neither can it perish; therefore it can never die. Thus the soul cannot be a 'state of attunement' between the physical elements of the body — a theory proposed by one of his disputants [85-6] and an anticipation of epiphenomenalism (consciousness regarded as a by-product of the brain's material 'make-up'). (5) In the Phaedrus [246] he suggests the soul is a 'self-mover' and must therefore be immortal. (6) Finally, in the Republic [608-ll] he argues that the soul cannot be destroyed by its 'proper evil', namely vice and so must survive the body's death.

 

ETHICS

IDEALISTIC TELEOLOGY

[11] Plato's discussion in the Meno of knowledge as recollection seemed to lead to the conclusion that knowledge could not be taught, and he left it an open question whether Socrates was correct in thinking of virtue as a type of knowledge. But with his introduction of the Forms in the Phaedo he came to that view in his metaphysics and psychology [a]. In the Republic [Bk IV, 428ff] he develops his theory of the cardinal virtues as related to the 'trifunctional' soul [b]. Corresponding to the rational aspect is the virtue of wisdom; fortitude corresponds to the 'spirited' aspect; while temperance consists in the moderation or balanced control of the appetites or desires by the reason, aided by 'spirit' [b] — which may perhaps here be termed 'moral energy'. Each of these virtues, however, is to be regarded as a manifestation of the whole personality. If each aspect of the soul is doing its proper 'job', then the soul is further said to be just: justice is the fourth and all-embracing cardinal virtue [c]. A man is just or virtuous in so far as he directs his actions towards the realization of what is his specific human good, that is, his rationality [d]. Plato takes this good to be the development of his personality as a rational being. Human good must reflect the universal Good, so he argues that actions are good to the extent that they show or point to the objective Form of the Good [e]. A life of virtue, in which one knows the Good [f] and acts justly, will lead to happiness (eudaimonia) [f] — 'well-being' is perhaps a better translation. But Plato makes it clear [Republic 576-92; see also Philebus] that by happiness he is thinking neither of the pleasure we associate with sensual satisfaction (food, drink, sex), nor of ambition or honour, which the soul seeks in its 'spirited' aspect. It is only the pleasure which derives from the proper operation of the rational aspect, in controlling the desires and achieving knowledge of the Good, that may be said to constitute genuine well-being and the good life [g][g].

[12] Justice. Given this approach to ethics, we can understand why Plato was critical of 'conventionalist' and relativist theories of justice [a][a]. In the Republic [327-67; cf. Gorgias 453 ff.] Plato (speaking through Socrates) rejects the suggestion that doing right is simply being truthful and, say, returning what one has borrowed, on the grounds that one would not return a weapon to a madman. Neither can justice consist in giving everyone what is appropriate, that is, doing good to a friend but harming an enemy. Plato's arguments are involved, but his main point is that to do harm to an enemy would actually make him worse and that to act in this way would be contrary to the function of a good man. Moreover, if we were mistaken about the 'enemy', we could well be causing harm to someone who is really good. A second theory of justice, in effect that might is right — justice is in the interest of the stronger class or ruler — is also considered and rejected. Plato argues that unless a ruler is genuinely concerned with the welfare of his subjects he cannot really be a ruler in any strict sense. In reply it is then suggested that in practice so-called 'injustice' actually pays. It is a fact of social and political life in the Greek states that the simple and 'just' people promote the happiness of their masters. Other participants in the discussion propose a kind of social contract theory to define conventional justice of the 'common herd' as being a compromise between doing wrong and avoiding punishment and suffering wrong without any redress. However, Plato tries to show that these approaches to justice lead to contradictions. Furthermore, a man has to be just if his mind or soul is to perform its proper functions; and it is this which guarantees the good life and happiness. In the final sections of the Republic [6l2-6] Plato argues that while virtue is indeed its own reward, even if a good person does not receive any direct benefit from society in his own lifetime he will be rewarded by the gods in the next world. This claim presupposes the soul's immortality . He sets out his beliefs in his 'Myth of Er', the story of a brave man killed in battle who is commanded by the Judges of the dead to observe the fate of other souls and then to return to Earth as a messenger.

[13] An important issue that arises from Plato's account of virtue or justice is that of weakness of will (akrasia) [a]. He has supposed that if an individual in a given situation knows what is good and therefore how he ought to act he will perform the right action. Yet it is a matter of common experience that people do not do the right thing. How is this possible? Socrates had said that nobody does wrong willingly [Meno 77 ff; cf. Protagoras 35l-8]. Plato's general answer is that in such cases one's reason is temporarily obscured (one is 'unenlightened', as it were) by the sensual activities of the soul, dragged down by the body, and the 'willing' or 'spirited' aspect does not provide the support necessary to overcome the appetites. Otherwise evil must be due to ignorance [a].

 

POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY

[14] [gen. 14] The ideal state. For Plato, as for other Greeks of his own day, the 'good life' is realizable only in society, that is, the polis or city-state. The ideal state, according to Plato, is the genuinely just state. A detailed plan for such a state is to be found in the Republic; and indeed it is through his analysis of the concept of justice as operating in the larger entity of the state that Plato seeks to understand what justice is in the individual — a requirement of his ethics.

A primitive society, Plato says [369-75] is composed of a working class consisting of a small number of individuals each of whom has a skill to offer — farming, building, and the like. A civilized society will contain still further kinds of workers, such as artists, cooks, doctors, poets. A second class, the 'Auxiliaries', will then be required to protect the community from attack by other states. The ideal society will, moreover, need to be governed; this will be the function of the third and highest class — the Rulers or Guardians. Plato now relates the four cardinal virtues to these classes [42l-44] [a]. Wisdom is shown by the Rulers in exercising their skill on behalf of the city as a whole. Courage is the virtue associated with the Auxiliaries when they fight with spirit. Temperance (or discipline) is diffused through the whole state. It is a kind of harmony shown when the workers and Auxiliaries are obedient to the wise Rulers. The state is said to be just when each member, of whatever class, is doing the job properly for which she or he is most suited. Justice in the 'trifunctional' individual soul can then be understood by analogy with the three classes of the ideal state [b].

Many of Plato's proposals [see 376-427, 449-466, 5l4-54l] are radical and controversial. He intended that women should participate fully in the work of society and, if qualified, become Rulers. On the other hand, he said that Rulers should not be permitted to marry; instead there should be 'mating festivals' for suitable couples to ensure the production of the 'best stock'. Children resulting from such unions would then be reared by the state to guarantee loyalty to it rather than to the family. Censorship of the arts would be necessary so as to encourage right thinking and behaviour. Rulers and Auxiliaries would not be allowed to have any private property; all their basic needs would be provided for by the citizens. Plato also sketched out a training programme for potential Rulers. Literary education was to be followed by a period of physical training (to develop courage and temperance) and then a rigorous course of study of mathematics and philosophy culminating in dialectic to be completed at about the age of thirty so as to develop wisdom and virtue. (The ideal of mens sana in corpore sano would thus seem to have originated with Plato.) Not all children would prove capable of completing such a programme. In his 'Foundation Myth' [4l4-5] Plato seems to have supposed that potential is a matter of 'nature' rather than 'nurture'; children are fashioned by the gods with gold, silver, or iron and copper in their composition, only the golden child having the capacity to become a Ruler. However, he provides for what we would call 'streaming': a child can be promoted or demoted from one class to another as its abilities are revealed in the course of the education process. In this way the state as a whole will benefit.

Having set out in some detail his conception of the 'perfect' aristocracy, which he thinks could evolve, albeit with difficulty, from the Athenian society in which he lived, Plato examines a number of 'imperfect' societies to show how and to what extent they fall short of the ideal [543-76]. (l) Timocracy (rule by 'men of honour') comes about when the 'spirited' element takes control of reason. The Auxiliaries displace the genuine Rulers; self-assertiveness and personal ambition predominate; war becomes the norm in such a society. (2) Oligarchy (government by the rich). This devolves from the timocracy as a result of greed and the accumulation of wealth by a minority, on which political power depends. There are only two classes: rich and poor (many of whom become criminals). (3) Democracy (rule by the people). Such a society is not democratic in most modern senses. It arises when the deprived underclass overthrows the oligarchs and takes control, regardless of their own fitness to rule. The people (polloi) are supposedly free but act on ephemeral impulses in their quest for pleasure. Democracies thus lack cohesion and respect for authority and the law, and tend to anarchy. (4) Finally society lapses into Tyranny. After often protracted struggles between the rich minority and the 'masses', the latter look for a popular leader. However, although starting out as a democrat, he gives in to a master passion, for example, lust, absolute power, and becomes a tyrant.

 

PHILOSOPHY OF ART

[15] It would seem from what he wrote in the Republic that Plato had a relatively poor opinion of imitative art [a]. Nevertheless he did regard the Form of Beauty — together with the Forms of Truth and Goodness — as a manifestation of the One [b]. It is also the only Form accessible by the senses [Phaedrus 250] and thus is particularly effective in awakening recollection. Works of art (painting, music, literature) therefore provide us with at least the first step on the way to knowledge of the Beautiful. And, as we have seen, they have an educative and moral function in Plato's ideal society. They also enable citizens to express their imaginative and creative urges and provide innocent and pleasurable diversion. [This is discussed further in The Laws.] The giving of pleasure, however, is not the test of the quality of art. (Indeed he is critical of, in particular, tragic drama in so far as it stimulates the emotions, such as pity and fear, thereby threatening the rational 'part' of the soul [c] ). A genuine work of art has worth to the extent that it imitates symbolically (via the natural objects it may depict) the relevant Form, and hence Beauty itself, though as an 'imitation' or copy it is of course at two removes from the real.

 

CRITICAL SUMMARY

In the thought of Plato and his pupil Aristotle Greek philosophy achieved its highest and most perfect expression. However, this is not to say that their approaches and solutions to a wide range of problems are immune from criticism. In Plato's case the kinds of difficulties commentators have drawn attention to over the years to the present day are probably an inevitable consequence of several general characteristics of his thought.

Firstly, Plato sought to reconcile and indeed achieve a synthesis of the main positions adopted by the Presocratics on a wide variety of issues. Thus he tackled the problems of permanence and change, the one and the many, the real and the illusory; he speculated about the soul (or mind) and the body; and in his writings on both epistemology and ethics, building on the pioneering work of his predecessor Socrates, he attacked relativism, arguing for an 'objectivist' account of knowledge and virtue; while in his political philosophy we may see at least an implicit attempt to balance the needs of the individual against the requirements of the 'ideal' state. His methods of argumentation too drew on the techniques developed by Eleatic dialecticians as well as Socrates.

Secondly, Plato was a 'visionary', idealistic, even 'other-worldly' thinker. For his the purpose of human existence is to be found in communion with the eternal, immutable, perfectly real Forms — culminating in an intellectual intuition of the one, in which wisdom and virtue coincide. He saw it as the primary function of philosophy to make this possible — and of the 'philosopher-kings', the Rulers to impart this wisdom to the community.

Thirdly, his aim, it would seem, was to achieve a final system or world-view. Certainly we find in his writings a high degree of integration and interdependency between the various branches of philosophy — theory of knowledge, metaphysics, 'psychology', ethics, political philosophy. But such a system was never realized; his thought remained in flux, incomplete, subject to refinement and revision under his persistent questioning of his own assumptions and arguments.

The following are some of the important critical issues:

(1) The 'two-worlds'. Plato was never fully clear as to what things 'have' Forms; and he did not satisfactorily resolve the problem of how changing sensible individual things relate to the eternal and immutable Forms. He tended also to have a somewhat negative attitude to the material world; while the status of the 'One' remains ambiguous.

(2) Theory of Knowledge. Despite his best efforts there is an unresolved tension between Plato's view that knowledge and belief are to be distinguished by reference to different 'states of mind' and his (arguably) more mature view that knowledge is justified true belief, or opinion plus some 'account'. His theory as to how knowledge is acquired is also open to attack, particularly from philosophers of a more empiricist persuasion.

(3) The soul. Plato's arguments for the soul's existence or for its immortality are problematical. Both his 'dualistic' account and his tripartite distinction are likewise subject to difficulties. It is not clear whether the soul actually has different 'parts' rather than 'functions'; and if the latter whether this is consistent with the possibility of the soul's survival after the cessation of bodily activity. Furthermore, his proposed solution to the problem of weakness of will, in the light of his supposition that one's knowledge of the Good is a sufficient guarantee that one will act rightly, has been generally regarded as inadequate.

(4) Philosophy of Nature/cosmology. It is debatable how far Plato's account is philosophical rather than mythopoeic. There is much uncertainty about the relationship between the 'One' and 'God' or the Demiurge. His views on the nature of time have also been criticized by later thinkers.

(5) Ethics and political philosophy. While Plato's ethics are teleological they are also grounded in his psychological, epistemological, and metaphysical assumptions — as indeed is the structure of his 'ideal' state. The Republic has aroused the ire of many critics situated on both the 'left' and the 'right' of the political spectrum. He has been accused of being, for example, elitist, totalitarian, paternalist, communitarian at the expense of the individual, and anti-feminist. But many of these criticisms have perhaps failed to take sufficient cognisance of the socio-political or general cultural milieu in which he was philosophizing.

(6) Philosophy of art. Although no doubt much approved of by both Marxists and fascists, Plato's enlisting of the arts for propaganda purposes tends to support the view that, perhaps because of his metaphysical and ethical standpoints, he seems to have overlooked the importance of aesthetic experience as having any value in itself. Nevertheless, it is clear that he was by no means lacking an aesthetic sense.

Despite such alleged weaknesses, the greatness of Plato's philosophy is undeniable. He was profoundly influential — on Aristotle and the post-Aristotelians, and later during the early middle ages and the Renaissance. His influence may be detected also in some of the metaphysical and analytical tendencies of early twentieth century English philosophy, and in German hermeneutics. His negative or 'other-worldly' predilections have been seen by many as a positive feature; and he remains the supreme model for all those who would reject relativism and look for absolute standards of truth, goodness, and beauty.

 

READING

Plato: Individual dialogues are available in a variety of editions by different translators. See especially R. Waterfield's editions of the Theaetetus and the Republic. Most of the other principal dialogues are also available in Penguin editions. There is also a Loeb edition in twelve volumes. However, for convenience the edition of Plato's works edited by J. Cooper: Plato: Complete Works is recommended. (As a bare minimum one should read Protagoras, Meno, Phaedo, Republic, Phaedrus, Parmenides, Theaetetus, Sophist, and Timaeus.)

Studies:

Introductory

G. C. Field, The Philosophy of Plato.

G. M. A. Grube, Plato's Thought.

R. M. Hare, Plato.

Advanced

I. M. Crombie, An Examination of Plato's Doctrines, 2 vols.

J. C. B. Gosling, Plato.

T. H. Irwin, Plato's Ethics.

A. Silverman, The Dialectic of Essence: A Study of Plato's Metaphysics.

Collections of essays

R. E. Allen (ed.), Studies in Plato's Metaphysics.

G. Fine (ed.), Plato One: Metaphysics and Epistemology; Plato Two: Ethics, Politics, Religion and the Soul.

R. Kraut (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Plato.

G. Vlastos (ed.), Plato i: Metaphysics and Epistemology; ii: Ethics, Politics, and Philosophy of Art and Religion.

 

CONNECTIONS

Plato

 

Note also the general rejection of Platonic metaphysics and epistemology by the sceptics Pyrrho and Sextus, by Francis Bacon, and by Nietzsche.

 

[1a 2d 3b 7e] Dialectic/ definition

   Zeno

   Socrates

Aristotle

Bacon (Francis)

   Hegel

   Bradley

[1a]

[1b d 1b]

[1a 5a-c 6b]

[2d]

[2a]

[2a b]

 

Metaphysics: the nature of Forms
[secs 1-3]  

Bacon (Francis)

Kant

[1a d 2d]

[2d 4a]

 

[1b c 2a c] Intelligible objects, universals, whole, immutable; paradigms; matter and form

Aristotle

Chrysippus

Philo

Plotinus

Augustine

Anselm

Bonaventura

Aquinas

Nicholas of Cusa

Locke

Schleiermacher

Nietzsche

Husserl

Santayana

Scheler

Russell

Moore

Heidegger

[8d, l3c d l4b c]

[3e]

[1c d]

[1i]

[1g 4c]

[1d]

[1b 2a]

[3b 6e]

[2e]

[1b 2o]

[1a]

[1a 2a c]

[1d]

[4a]

[4c]

[2a]

[1b]

[1a]

 

[1d] Mathematical concepts    Pythagoras

Aristotle

Posidonius

Plotinus

Augustine

   Frege

Husserl

Russell

Moore

[1a]

[7a 13f]

[1f 2b]

[1g]

[4d]

[1b]

[1b 3b]

[2a]

[1b]

 

Relationships of Forms to each other and to sensible particulars
[1c 2a-d 3a c; cf. 5d f 6b] One and Many — interconnection; permanence and change; 'essence' and 'existence'; 'participation'; degrees of reality/ hierarchy and the chorismos    Heraclitus

   Parmenides

   Anaxagoras

   Zeno

Aristotle

Posidonius

Philo

Plutarch

Plotinus

Proclus

Avicenna

Bonaventura

Aquinas

   Nicholas of Cusa

   Berkeley

Schelling

Schopenhauer

   Bradley

Peirce

Husserl

Whitehead

Santayana

[1a c f]

[1a d]

[3a]

[1b 2a]

[5b 8a 8d 12d 12e]

13a-e 14c]

[1a e]

[1f]

[1d]

[1c 1g]

[1c d 1e 2e]

[1b c 3c]

[2a]

[3b]

[2c]

[3c]

[5c]

[3b]

[5c]

[1d 2a]

[2d 3a-c]

[1b 4c]

[4a]

 

[2b] Individuation through matter

Aristotle

Bonaventura

Peirce

[l4a]

[4g]

[2a]

 

[3a 4a-c 5b 15b] The One, Truth, Good, 'God', and Beauty; ultimate explanatory principle; ascent of love    Parmenides

Aristotle

Chrysippus

Philo

Plutarch

Plotinus

Proclus

Augustine

   Berkeley

   Hegel

Scheler

[1a]

[7c 18a b]

[3a b]

[1b-d]

[1a]

[1a b e]

[1a e 2d 4c]

[3a c]

[3c]

[1c 8b]

[5d]

 

[3d] Ambiguity of 'is'/ 'exists'    Parmenides

Aristotle

[CSa]

[1b]

 

Philosophy of Nature/ cosmology
[sec. 5]  

Bacon (Francis)

   Hegel

[1a d 2d]

[4a]

 

[2a 5a d] Causation (material and/ or efficient)    Thales

   Anaximander

   Anaximenes

   Heraclitus

   Anaxagoras

   Empedocles

[1a]

[1a]

[1a b]

[1c g]

[2b]

[1c]

  The four causes and explanation

Aristotle

Proclus

[6a 8a-e 9a-c]

[1e]

 

[4a 5a-c f] Origin of world from eternal pre-existent material: Demiurge, Divine reason, World-Soul, Forms in Divine Mind, individual souls

   Pythagoras

   Heraclitus

   Anaxagoras

   Empedocles

   Democritus

   Socrates

Aristotle

Chrysippus

Posidonius

Philo

Plutarch

Plotinus

Proclus

Augustine

Nicholas of Cusa

   Hegel

   Schelling

Scheler

[2a]

[1f 2a]

[2b]

[1a 1c 3b]

[1e]

[1a]

[12d e]

[3a b d]

[1a b 1f]

[1e 1e]

[1c]

[1c 1e f 1h 1j 1l 1n]

[2a-d]

[3a b 3c 4b 4c 7b]

[2e i 2j]

[4a]

[1b 6a]

[4c]

 

[4a 5g 8a] 'Proofs' for the Forms and the One? 'cosmological' argument?

   Aristotle

   Chrysippus

Philo

Augustine

Bonaventura

[12e]

[3h]

[3b]

[3a b]

[1b]

 

[5c d] Matter and four 'elements'/ 'qualities'; bodies of 3 and 4 dimensions

   Heraclitus

   Pythagoras

   Anaxagoras

   Empedocles

Aristotle

Plutarch

Plotinus

[1i]

[1a]

[1b]

[1b]

[8d 10b c 12d]

[1e]

[1n]

 

[5e] Creation and time

   Parmenides

   Zeno

Aristotle

Plutarch

Plotinus

Augustine

Nicholas of Cusa

[1d]

[2a]

[12c]

[1b]

[1i]

[6a]

[2k]

 

[13a; cf. 9e] Evil and the material world

Aristotle

Plotinus

[12g]

[1m]

 

Knowledge and belief
[secs 6 & 7]  

Bacon (Francis)

Kant

[1b]

[2d 4a]

 

[4b 7e] Knowledge of Forms; ascent to the One or Good through Eros (the 'daimon'); intellectual/ mystical intuition or 'vision'; 'proofs' of the Forms /the One

   Socrates

Aristotle

Carneades

Posidonius

Plutarch

Plotinus

Proclus

Augustine

Locke

   Hegel

Scheler

[1a]

[13e 16e 18a]

[1a]

[2a]

[2d]

[2c 3a b]

[4a c]

[1c g h 1i]

[1b 2o]

[1a 5c 8c d]

[5a 5d]

 

[6a b 7a c-e] Knowledge and belief; 'states of mind', levels ('divided line'); 'justified true belief' (giving an account); knowledge of Forms

   Parmenides

Democritus

Aristotle

Carneades

Philo

Augustine

   Hegel

Nietzsche

   Bradley

Ortega y Gasset

   Ayer

[1e]

[2c]

[13d 16a c-e 17a c

20b cf. sec. 6]

[1a]

[3a]

[1c]

[5c]

[1a 2a c]

[1e]

[2b]

[2b]

 

[6b 7b 8a; cf. 2a 3a] Perception/ sense-experience (contrasted with knowledge)

   Heraclitus

   Empedocles

   Protagoras

Democritus

Aristotle

Pyrrho

Epicurus

Chrysippus

Carneades

Posidonius

Philo

Plotinus

Augustine

   Bradley

Ortega y Gasset

[2a]

[2a]

[1b 2a]

[2a]

[16b d 17b]

[1a]

[1a]

[2a b]

[1a]

[2a]

[3a]

[3a]

[1b]

[5c 6a]

[2b]

 

[7f] Problem of false judgement

   Russell

   Moore

[1g]

[2b]

 

[sec. 8] Innate knowledge and recollection; education

Aristotle

Chrysippus

Carneades

Augustine

Bonaventura

Aquinas

Locke

Gadamer

[16b 17a]

[2b]

[1a]

[1b 2b 8b]

[6a]

[6f]

[2a]

[1c]

 

[8b; cf. 9e] 'Illumination', intellectual 'vision'; turning to the One (and Good)

Plotinus

Proclus

Augustine

Bonaventura

Fichte

   Moore

[1d — 3b]

[4a 4d]

[1g h 2a 8b]

[6c]

[5c]

[3a]

 

The soul: its nature and functions
[secs 9 & 10]  

Bacon (Francis)

Locke

Hampshire

[1b]

[2e]

[2a]

 

[9a c d; see also 11g] Principle of life/ reasoning faculty

   Heraclitus

   Anaxagoras

   Democritus

Aristotle

Chrysippus

Posidonius

Philo

Aurelius

Plotinus

Augustine

Kant

Nietzsche

[2a]

[2c]

[2c]

[15b]

[5a]

[3a]

[2a]

[1c]

[2a]

[7b]

[3b 5a]

[2a]

  Dualism/ tripartite theory

   Pythagoras

Aristotle

Posidonius

Plutarch

Aurelius

Plotinus

Augustine

Kant

[2b]

[15d]

[3a b]

[2a]

[1b]

[2a]

[7b]

[5b]

 

[9b sec. 10] Immortality and transmigration/ rebirth

   Pythagoras

   Heraclitus

   Empedocles

   Democritus

Aristotle

Epicurus

Chrysippus

Posidonius

Cicero

Philo

Plutarch

Plotinus

Augustine

Wm of Auvergne

Bonaventura

Kant

Schopenhauer

[2b]

[2b]

[3a]

[2d]

[15e]

[3c]

[5b]

[3d]

[1e]

[2b]

[2b]

[2a]

[7a]

[2d]

[5e]

[5b]

[3g]

 

[9d 13a] Right knowledge → right action, but weakness of will

   Heraclitus

    Socrates

Aristotle

   Fichte

   Royce

[3b]

[CSa]

[21b]

[3d]

[2b]

 

[9e; cf. 4b 8b 13a] Soul and 'purification'; escape from material world into 'light'; role of philosophy.

   Pythagoras

Aristotle

Plotinus

Proclus

Augustine

[2c]

[23b]

[1l 1m 2c]

[3a]

[7b]

 

Ethics and political philosophy
[1c 8b 11f]. Knowledge of the 'Good'

Aristotle

Epicurus

Augustine

   Locke

Nietzsche

   Moore

[18a b 18a b]

[1b]

[1g i]

[3a b]

[1a]

[3a]

 

[11d e 12a] Virtue — nature and reality of good action and man's rational function; Form of the Good    Protagoras

   Socrates

Aristotle

Pyrrho

Chrysippus

Carneades

Posidonius

   Cicero

Philo

Aquinas

   Locke

Shaftesbury

   Kant

Nietzsche

Santayana

Hampshire

[3a]

[2a]

[18d 19a]

[2a d]

[6a 6c]

[3a]

[4a]

[2a]

[4b 4b]

[8a]

[3c]

[1e]

[8a]

[1a]

[6a]

[2b d]

 

[11a b g 13a; see also 9d] Virtue and knowledge; acquisition ; reason as moderator/ controller of feeling/ desire; evil and ignorance

   Protagoras

   Socrates

Aristotle

   Epicurus

Chrysippus

Carneades

Posidonius

   Cicero

Philo

Seneca

Plutarch

Aurelius

Maimonides

Shaftesbury

Nietzsche

[1a]

[2b d]

[21a]

[4b]

[6a]

[3b]

[4a]

[2a c]

[4c]

[2b]

[3b]

[1c 2c]

[5a]

[1a]

[1a]

 

[11b 14a] The cardinal virtues

Aristotle

Plotinus

Augustine

[secs 19 & 20]

[2d]

[8a]

 

[11c 12a 14b] Justice in soul and state

Aristotle

   Epicurus

Philo

Augustine

Aquinas

[19c 19c 22d]

[4b]

[4b]

[9c]

[10b]

 

[11f g] Virtue and 'happiness', (well-being — eudaimonia)/ pleasure; knowledge of the Good

   Socrates

   Democritus

Aristotle

   Pyrrho

Epicurus

Chrysippus

   Cicero

Plutarch

Augustine

Aquinas

Shaftesbury

   Kant

Nietzsche

   Moore

[2c]

[3a]

[18c]

[2c]

[4a]

[6b]

[2b]

[2b]

[8a]

[8a]

[1b]

[8a]

[1a]

[3a]

 

[sec. 14] The nature, structure and function of society: realization of the 'good life'

Aristotle

Augustine

Maimonides

Shaftesbury

Fichte

Hegel

Comte

Nietzsche

Santayana

Popper

Hampshire

[sec 22]

[9a b]

[5a]

[1c]

[4d]

[7d]

[2a]

[4a]

[6a]

[3c]

[2b d]

 

Aesthetics
[15a] Imitation

Aristotle

Plotinus

[23a]

[1e]

 

[15b] Beauty and Truth

Aristotle

Plutarch

Plotinus

Proclus

Augustine

   Aquinas

Shaftesbury

   Hegel

Schelling

Schopenhauer

Santayana

[23c]

[1a]

[1e]

[4c]

[3c]

[lg sec. 11]

[1e]

[8b]

[5c]

[3c]

[1a 4c]

 

[15c] Criticism of tragic drama; stimulates the emotions Aristotle [23b]