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Plato


Plato's Work



Plato : Plato's Work

Plato wrote mainly in the form of dialogues. In the early ones several characters discuss a topic by asking questions of one another. Socrates figures prominently and a lively, more disorganized form of elenchos/dialectic is perceived; these are called the Socratic Dialogues.

But the qualities of the dialogues changed a great deal over the course of Plato's life. It is generally agreed that Plato's earlier works are more closely based on Socrates' thoughts, whereas his later writing increasingly breaks away from the views of his former teacher. In the middle dialogues, Socrates becomes a mouthpiece for Plato's own philosophy, and the question-and-answer style is more pro forma: the main figure represents Plato and the minor characters have little to say except "yes"; "of course" and "very true". The later dialogues read more like treatises, and Socrates is often absent or quiet. It is assumed that the later dialogues were written entirely by Plato, while some of the early dialogues could be transcripts of Socrates' own dialogues. The question which, if any, of the dialogues are truly socratic is called the Socratic problem.

The ostensible mise-en-scene of a dialogue distances both Plato and a given reader from the philosophy being discussed; one can choose between at least two options of perception: either to participate in the dialogues, in the ideas being discussed, or choose to see the content as expressive of the personalities contained within the work.

The dialogue format also allows Plato to put unpopular opinions in the mouth of unsympathetic characters, e.g. Thrasymachus in The Republic.

Plato's Metaphysics: Platonism, or realism
One of Plato's legacies, and perhaps his greatest, was his dualistic metaphysics, often called (in metaphysics) Platonism or (Exaggerated) Realism. Plato's metaphysics divides the world into two distinct aspects: the intelligible world of "forms" and the perceptual world we see around us. He saw the perceptual world, and the things in it, as imperfect copies of the intelligible forms or ideas. These forms are unchangable and perfect, and are only comprehensible by the use of the intellect or understanding (i.e., a capacity of the mind that does not include sense-perception or imagination).

In the Republic Books VI and VII, Plato used a number of metaphors to explain his metaphysical views: the metaphor of the sun, the well-known allegory of the cave, and most explicitly, the divided line. Taken together, these metaphors convey a complex and, in places, difficult theory: there is something called The Form of the Good (often interpreted as Plato's God), which is the ultimate object of knowledge and which as it were sheds light on all the other forms (i.e., universals: abstract kinds and attributes) and from which all other forms "emanate." The Form of the Good does this in somewhat the same way as the sun sheds light on or makes visible and "generates" things in the perceptual world. (See Plato's metaphor of the sun.) In the perceptual world the particular objects we see around us bear only a dim resemblance to the more ultimately real forms of Plato's intelligible world: it is as if we are seeing shadows of cut-out shapes on the walls of a cave, which are mere representations of the reality outside the cave, illuminated by the sun. (See Plato's allegory of the cave.) We can imagine everything in the universe represented on a line of increasing reality; it is divided once in the middle, and then once again in each of the resulting parts. The first division represents that between the intelligible and the perceptual worlds. Then there is a corresponding division in each of these worlds: the segment representing the perceptual world is divided into segments representing "real things" on the one hand, and shadows, reflections, and representations on the other. Similarly, the segment representing the intelligible world is divided into segments representing first principles and most general forms, on the one hand, and more derivative, "reflected" forms, on the other. (See the divided line of Plato.) The form of government derived from this philosophy turns out to be one of a rigidly fixed hierarchy of hereditary classes, in which the arts are mostly suppressed for the good of the state, the size of the city and its social classes is determined by mathematical formula, and eugenic measures are applied secretly by rigging the lotteries in which the right to reproduce is allocated. The tightness of connection of such government to the lofty and original philosophy in the book has been debated.

Plato's metaphysics, and particularly the dualism between the intelligible and the perceptual, would inspire later Neoplatonic thinkers (see Plotinus and Gnosticism) and other metaphysical realists. For more on Platonic realism in general, see Platonic realism and the Forms.

Plato also had some influential opinions on the nature of knowledge and learning which he propounded in the Meno, which began with the question of whether virtue can be taught, and proceeded to expound the concepts of recollection, learning as the discovery of pre-existing knowledge, and right opinion, opinions which are correct but have no clear justification (see Platonic epistemology).

A short history of Plato scholarship
Plato's thought is often compared with that of his best and most famous student, Aristotle, whose reputation during the Middle Ages so completely eclipsed that of Plato that the Scholastic philosophers referred to Aristotle as "the Philosopher."

One of the characteristics of the Middle Ages was reliance on authority and on scholastic commentaries on writings of Plato and other historically important philosophers, rather than accessing their original works. In fact, Plato's original writings were essentially lost to western civilization until their reintroduction in the twelfth century through the Persian and Arab scholars. These scholars not only maintained the original Greek texts of the ancients, but expanded them by writing extensive commentaries and interpretations on Plato's and Aristotle's works (see Al-Farabi, Avicenna, Averroes). These were eventually translated into Latin and later into the local vernacular.

Only in the Renaissance, with the general resurgence of interest in classical civilization, did knowledge of Plato's philosophy become more widespread. Many of the greatest early modern scientists and artists who broke with Scholasticism and fostered the flowering of the Renaissance, with the support of the Plato-inspired Lorenzo de Medici, saw Plato's philosophy as the basis for progress in the arts and sciences. By the 19th century Plato's reputation was restored and at least on par with Aristotle's.

Notable Western philosophers have continued to examine Plato's work since that time, diverging from traditional academic approaches with their own philosophy as a basis. Nietzsche attacked Plato's moral and political theories, Heidegger expounded on Plato's obfuscation of Being, and Karl Popper in The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945), argued that Plato's proposal for a government system in the dialogue The Republic was prototypically totalitarian. While many critics reject such readings on a variety of grounds, they remain widely discussed.


  
  
  


Source : Wikipedia All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License



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