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[Plato biography]
Plato quotes, quotations, life

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Plato quotes :-

  The good is the beautiful.

  That man is wisest who, like Socrates, realises that his wisdom is worthless.

  Every king springs from a race of slaves, and every slave has had kings among his ancestors.

  What is wholly real is wholly knowable, and what is utterly non-existent is completely unknowable.

  I wonder if we could contrive... some magnificent myth that would itself carry conviction to our whole community.

  Our object in the construction of the state is the greatest happiness of the whole, and not that of any one class.

  There will be no end to the troubles of states, or indeed, my dear Glaucon, of humanity itself, till philosophers become kings in this world, or till those we now call kings and rulers really and truly become philosophers.


An outline biography

  Plato was born around 427 B.C. into a most influential family and, as he grew into manhood, he became deeply involved in the study of poetry. He also had a limited early grounding in philosophy including the ideas of Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans.

  Plato probably knew of Socrates from early in his life but was probably only really introduced to Socrates' ideas when he was into his own early years of manhood, he was informally taught by Socrates and was greatly influenced by Socrates' own interest in questions about virtue and the foremost necessity of attempting to cultivate a noble character. Under this influence he seems to have adopted views which were respectful of the serene contemplation of truth by philosophers who were committed to the public good.

   Given Plato's family background of service to the state he might well have been destined for a political career. At the time when he might have attempted to enter into a political life Athens had suffered severe reverses in the Peloponnesian Wars, this left her political life diminished. Plato was also greatly alienated from politics by the way in which his friend and mentor Socrates had been sentenced to death by those involved in politics.

 After Socrates trial and death in 399 B.C. Plato and some other friends of Socrates, in disillusionment and fears for their own safety, spent some time abroad and probably visited schools of philosophy in these years.

   These times abroad included time spent in Megara (then a powerful city state neighbouring Athens), Cyrene on the North African coast, Tarentum in the south of the Italian peninsula, Egypt, and Syracuse in Sicily. Having fled from Syracuse after falling foul of its ruler Dionysius Plato was captured by a rival of Athens and only released on the payment of a ransom by a merchant from Cyrene.

  Plato wrote extensively during these years of exile, returning to to Athens in 387 B.C. and soon thereafter establishing a school that was known as the Academy which developed into a much frequented institution of higher learning. The Academy was located about two kilometres outside the city walls and was named after the Attic hero Academus. The Academy was intended to provide its students with an education suitable for legislators and administrators trained in the search for truth for its own sake. Pure Mathematics and Jurisprudence featured as a central elements of the curriculum. 

   At the Academy it became something of a habit for the students to walk about whilst in discussion. This led to students becoming known as Peripatetic School from the Greek word for such walking about. 

   Eudoxus of Cnidus, one of the foremost mathematicians of the day, moved his school from Cyzicus to Athens to join in co-operation with the Academy.

 Prior to the establishment of the Academy, and the slightly earlier school of Isocrates, the youth of Athens in search of education had had to resort to the services of freelance Sophists of variable quality who offered their services as would-be educators. 

   In 367 B.C. Dionysius I of Syracuse expired and was succeeded by his thirty year old son who was installed as Dionysius II. This Dionysius was not that well educated and the challenges faced by any ruler of Syracuse, particularly from an expansionary Carthage, were immense. In these circumstances Dion, a brother in law to Dionysius, strongly urged that Plato should undertake the task of personally tutoring Dionysius II.

   With great personal reluctance Plato, who had been living a life devoted to philosophy at his Academy, decided that he would have to leave behind his important and satisfying role there in the hope that he could be of help to Dionysius II. 

  Plato returned to Athens in 365 B.C. after Syracuse became involved in an outbreak of conflict. It was in this year that a young man with Macedonian connections, by the name of Aristotle, entered the Academy.

  Plato was again called to Syracuse but, as before, Dionysius II did not prove to be a ready student. Plato was able to extricate himself from Syracuse and, as a tangle of events unfolded over the next few years, Dion usurped the throne only to be murdered in 354 B.C. 

  Plato died around 347 B.C. and was buried in the grounds of the Academy. 

   Aristotle is credited with holding a very high opinion of Plato's character describing him as a man:-

   "Whom it blasphemy in the base even to praise".

   At his death Plato left behind him a body of works that was unprecedented in bulk, let alone quality of original content.

   The Academy in the short term passed to Speussipus, a nephew of its' illustrious founder, and in the longer term survived in name at least for more almost one thousand years until, in 529 A.D., it was closed by order of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian as being inimical to the Christian faith.

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