Christian Cyclopedia

About the Cyclopedia


(ca. 428/427–347 BC). Gk. philos.; b. perhaps on the island Aegina (or Athens?); of aristocratic Athenian descent; saw Athens decline politically and commercially as a result of the Peloponnesian War 431–404 BC; founded the Academy (perhaps ca. 386 BC), which became the 1st endowed university (it flourished till closed by Justinian 529 AD). Originally named Aristocles, he was popularly called Plato (from the Gk. for “broad”), probably either because of the breadth of his forehead or chest and shoulders or because of the breadth of his literary treatises. Influenced by the posit of Socrates (virtue is knowledge, which includes the ability to define abstract terms and to maintain definitions against dialectic questioning) and with a propensity for mathematics, Plato held that the material sensible world is merely a temporary copy of permanent unchanging Forms, which are the object of all real knowledge. The theorems of geometry, e.g., hold true not for the symbols which humans construct and which are necessarily faulty, but only of the perfect triangle, circle, etc., which exist in the suprasensible world of Forms (Ideas). The link bet. such a dualistic universe is the immortal soul, which has had contact with the Forms before its incarnation, and which, during its human existence, relearns as best possible its prenatal knowledge by dialectic recollection. True ethical values are attained only by those individuals who have the proper perspective of soul or mind as more important than physical bodies and possessions, and who place reason above the high-spirited and appetitive elements of their personality. Moreover, the best govt. is possible only when philosophers (the rational element of the state) attain adequate concept of the perfect Forms and become rulers. Plato's influence on Aristotle, the Stoics, Cicero, Plutarch, the Neoplatonists, and early ch. fathers (esp. Augustine of Hippo and Origen) is inestimable; his influence on psychol., ethics, and aesthetics is increasing. See also Socrates.

Works include (1) Socratic dialogues, e.g., Charmides (on temperance), Laches (on courage), Lysis (on friendship), Euthyphro (on piety), Apology (of Socrates), Protagoras and Meno (on the teachableness of virtue), Gorgias (on rhetoric); (2) highly literary writings that develop his views more extensively, e.g., Symposium (on the good), Phaedo (on the soul), Republic (on the just), Phaedrus (on love); (3) less literary writings on more abstruse questions of ontology (Parmenides), epistemology (Theaetetus), logic (Sophist), cosmology (Timaeus), ethics (Philebus), and politics (Statesman [or Politicus] and Laws). RGH

See also Aesthetics; Being; Jowett, Benjamin; Philosophy; Psychology, C; Transmigration of Souls.

P. Shorey, What Plato Said (Chicago, 1933); A. E. Taylor, Plato: The Man and His Work, 6th ed. (London, 1949).

Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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