There are many reasons to believe that Plato is the true founder of philosophy as an institutionalized discipline. This philosopher made of philosophy an academic knowledge, never better said, as he taught it in his Academy of Novices in Athens.
Plato’s life takes place in many places and although he comes from a wealthy family his story is that of someone who had a terrible time having to be exiled from his hometown and become a slave because of the misfortunes. of the war.
Concerned about power, he is credited with the idea that a just world would be a world where rulers are philosophers. We discover more deeply the life and thought of this philosopher through a biography of Plato, One of the most prominent thinkers in the western world.
Brief biography of Plato
Aristocles of Athens, known by his nickname Plato (in Greek Πλάτων, Plato “the broad supported”) was born around 428 BC. In any case, this philosopher has traveled a large part of the Mediterranean and fed his ideas from many currents of thought. The result was Platonic philosophy, one of the fundamental influences of Western culture..
Early childhood and family context
Plato was born into a rich and powerful family, in fact his father Aristotle believed that his vast wealth was due to the fact that he was descended from Codro, the last king of Athens.
As for mother, Perictione, she and her relatives appeared to be descended from former Greek lawmaker Solon., In addition to being linked to two very important figures of his time: Critias and Carmids, tyrants who had participated in an oligarchic coup d’état with 28 other tyrants perpetrated in 404 BC.
From the marriage between Ariston and Perictione were born two sons and a daughter in addition to Plato: Glaucus, Magnet and Potone. When dying Aristón her mother Perictione returned to marry, this time with her uncle Pirilampes, who was friend of Pericles, A very important politician in the history of Greece. From the union of Perictione and Pirilampes was born Antiphon, the half-brother of Plato.
Thanks to his belonging to a very wealthy family, Plato’s education was vast and deep, having the opportunity to be instructed by various illustrious personalities of his time. It is probable that when he was initiated into philosophy he was a disciple of Cratil, Considered a follower of the teachings of the philosopher Heraclitus.
However, the most important moment in Plato’s formation came in 407 BC. Just at the age of 20 he had the opportunity to meet Socrates who will become his master at 63 years old. For 8 years, Socrates transmitted everything he knew to the young Plato, arrested only for his imprisonment and death.
Interest in politics
Due to the characteristics of his family, in which many members were or had been politicians, the young man decided to become one of them as well. However, knowing firsthand how his relatives ruled, the tyrants Critias and Carmids, and not noticing many differences with the way the Democrats who replaced them, Plato was disappointed with politics.
For Plato, the political way to find justice was precisely philosophy. In fact, one of his maxims that has transcended over time is that justice will only be real if the rulers are philosophers or rulers who undertake to philosophize.
Exile from Athens
Being his teacher Socrates accused of an unjust crime and sentenced to death, Plato decided to flee to the town of Megara in Attica. Although he had committed no crime, he fled for fear of being tried given his close and deep connection to his master Socrates. It is believed that he must have stayed in Megara for about three years where he had the opportunity to relate to Euclid of Megara and to the school of philosophy of that city.
After Megara, he traveled to Egypt and then moved to the Cyrenaica region of present-day Libya. Here he was able to relate to the mathematician Theodore and the philosopher Aristotle of Cyrene. After his stay in Cyrenaica, Plato traveled to Italy, where he intended to meet the Architects of Taranto, a versatile scholar who boasted of being a mathematician, statesman, astronomer and philosopher. However, it must be said that there are sources which consider that after being in Cyrenaica he went directly to Athens.
Visit to King Dionysius I.
Around 388 BC, Plato went to the island of Sicily, in the capital, Syracuse, met Dionysus, brother-in-law of Dionysus I., King of the city. Dionysus was an admirer of the philosophers who followed the teachings of Socrates and informed the king of Plato’s presence. The king, intrigued by such an interesting visit, summoned the philosopher to his palace. Despite the initial interest, the relationship between the two was not to be very good because, although the reasons were not known, Dionysius I ended up expelling Plato.
In his second exile, the philosopher was forced to leave Syracuse aboard a Spartan ship, calling at Aegina. At that time, Aegina and Athens were at war and, on the iron ladder, Plato he ended up being enslaved in this first city. Fortunately, he was later saved by Anniceris, a Cyrenaic school philosopher who had met him when he was in Cyrene.
Foundation of the Academy
Plato would return to Athens around 387 BC, where he would take the opportunity to found his most famous institution: the Academy.. He built it on the outskirts of Athens, next to a garden dedicated to the hero Academo, which is why he received such a name.
This institution was a kind of sect of wise men organized with its regulations which also had a student residence, a library, classrooms and specialized seminars. this academy it would be a model for universities after the Middle Ages.
Return to Syracuse
In 367 BC, Dionysius I of Syracuse died, inheriting the throne from his son Dionysus II. Dionysus saw fit to bring Plato back to become the tutor of the newly crowned king and again invited him to come to Sicily. Naturally, Plato had his reservations, for he had been expelled from it and, by a series of unfortunate events, ended up being enslaved in his flight. However, he dared to travel to Syracuse and accepted the offer, leaving Eudoxo in charge of the Academy.
Once Plato arrived in Syracuse, Dionysius II distrusted the philosopher and God. He considered these two to be a competition for him and his throne, so in an instant he acted and ended up exiling them, albeit without denying him any possible return. He first expelled Dion and then Plato again.
Plato returned directly to Athens and remained there until 361 BC. when Dionysius II invited him to return. Plato did not trust anything and decided to leave in the company of some disciples, this time leaving the direction of the Pontic Academy of Heraclides. In an unexpected turn of events Dionysus II again saw Plato as a threat, and this time he decided to capture him..
Fortunately, Plato was saved with the help of Architas of Taranto. Therefore, suspicious of everything outside the city of Athens and its invitations, the philosopher decided to devote himself entirely to the Academy, leading it until his death, between the years 348 or 347 BC.
Plato has been strongly influenced by the philosophy of Pythagoras since its inception. For Plato, it was the soul, not the body, that truly signified the true essence of being. In fact, he believed that the body was nothing more than wrapper that disgusted our search for truth and limited the free expression of our being. The soul was an entity burdened by the physical world and the senses.
Plato believed that the soul came from a high world, a dimension where it would have been in contact with the truth. At one point, the soul indulged in small pleasures and, as a result, was seen forced to reduce to the physical and known world, being imprisoned in the body.
In his theory of three parts, he considers that the soul has three faculties: impulsivity, rationality and the element of passion.
The impulsive faculty was related to the ability to give orders and also to the will. It had to do with strength and momentum, as well as ambition and anger.
The faculties of rationality were, according to Plato, the superior faculty among all the others. He linked it to intelligence and wisdom and, according to him, it is the philosophers who have developed it the most.
The passionate faculty, on the other hand, was the lowest of all and was related to the natural urge to avoid pain and seek pleasure. Plato indicated that this was the element which favored the taste for material goods, which hindered the soul in its search for the truth and the essence of things.
The two realities
For Plato, there were what we might call two types of realities. On the one hand we have the real realm, which was formed by the world of ideas, and on the other hand we have the semi-real realm, shaped by the world of what is material and sensible.
According to Plato, the world of ideas is eternal, not subject to time or space, To be able to be understood as the true essence of reality. In contrast, the semi-real world is imperfect, ambiguous, unstable, and has limits that depend on space and time.
Thus, Plato gave to the concept of ideas a notion related to these universal elements, which serve as models which constitute truths which are maintained in time. For him, ideas were concepts such as virtue, beauty, equality and truth, that is, abstract and conceptually perfect, well-defined concepts.
The myth of the cave
The myth of the cave is surely the best allegory to understand the duality stated by Plato in his philosophy. In this myth it is explained that there is a domain related to ideas, which is unintelligible, and there is another which is fully associated with the sensible world.This would be what we, flesh and blood beings, experience. The interior of the cave represents the sensible world, while the life outside would be linked to the world of ideas.
For Plato, living inside the cave means living in a world full of darkness and being completely submissive to the pleasures of the world. The act of leaving the cave is the representation of leaving behind the search for pleasures and going in search of knowledge, of real ideas. In other words, that is to say leaving the cave is synonymous with favoring reason over impulsiveness and pleasure. The further we are from the cave, the more knowledge we gain and the closer we are to the truth.
Division of the human soul and relation to politics
Plato separates the “real” into two opposite worlds. On the one hand we have the positive, which is represented by the soul, the intelligible and the sky, while on the other we have the negative, represented by the body, the earth and the sensitive. In other words, that is to say the positive was the world of ideas, while the negative was the physical world. From these reflections he relates these ideas to what should be the ideal state, in which Plato established a division as to the conformation of the human soul.
The three faculties of the soul are located in three different places of the body. The reason is in the head, courage or the impulsive faculty is in the heart, and the passionate faculty or appetite is in the lower abdomen. These three faculties and the structures in which they are housed are what motivates man and inclines him to his decisions.
According to Plato, the man who devoted himself to rule was to be the one who mastered reason and wisdom above the other two faculties. In other words, the good ruler was one who possessed a soul with a tendency to seek the truth. It was here that he defended the idea that good leaders should be philosophers, that is, men who have given priority to reason over the other two faculties, or at least to them. kings would philosophize by seeking the truth to bring prosperity to their country.
- Bury, RG (1910). “The ethics of Plato”. April. The International Journal of Ethics XX (3): 271-281.
- Ross, WD (1993). Plato’s theory of ideas. Madrid: President.