THE LIFE OF PLATO

Themes


By
Vaughan Kimberling

Plato was born in 427 B.C. into a wealthy family that was both
aristocratic and politically influential. His family had a rich history of
political connections and consisted of his parents, Ariston and Perictione,
his older brothers Adeimantus and Glawcon, and later a younger sister,
Potone. “In keeping with his family heritage, Plato was destined for the
political life”(Beavers and Planeaux). During Platos early years he was
instructed by eminent teachers in grammar, music, and gymnastics. “Plato
also had literary aspirations directed particularly toward creative work in
poetry and tragedy”(Sahakian 32). Plato mainly engaged in many forms of
poetry, only later turning to philosophy. As a young man, during the final
years of the Peloponnesian War when Athens was in urgent need of manpower,
Plato served in the army. According to Sahakian, Plato seemed destined to
pursue a public career until he became a disciple of Socrates (Sahakian
32).


Plato was in his twenties when he directed his inquires toward the
question of virtue. Plato became a faithful disciple of Socrates not only
through Socrates’ remaining life, but after his death as well. Cornford
believed:
“It was the unique good fortune of Socrates to have, among his young
companions, one who was not only to become a writer of incomparable skill,
but was, by native gift, a poet and a thinker no less subtle than Socrates
himself”(Cornford 55).

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Plato was twenty-eight when Socrates died and he was committed to refining
and extending the Socratic principles. He also devoted his time to
defining the Socratic method of inquiry against criticism. “From Socrates
Plato learnt that problems of human life were to be solved by the morality
of aspiration and the pursuit of an invariable ideal of perfection”
(Cornford 63). Behind all of Plato’s beliefs is a Socratic motive in which
he derived.


Plato unified his beliefs of metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and
politics into a single inquiry. He found that the formation of a noble
character was to be before all else. The format in which Plato used to
unify his beliefs is unknown, but events during his life, like the chaos of
Athens final defeat in 404 B.C. are believed to help his unification.

During this time of unification, Plato began to travel. “Plato was forty
when he visited Italy for the first time and shortly thereafter he returned
to Athens and founded the Academus Academy, located nearly a mile outside
the city walls and named after the Attic hero Academus” (Beavers and
Planeaux). The Academy was an independent institution of learning and can
be seen as the precursor of today’s modern university. Falikowski writes
that:
“The Academy was a quiet retreat where teachers and students
could meet to pursue knowledge… Students throughout Greece
enrolled to portake in the adventure of learning and to
experience personal growth toward wisdom” (Falikowski 15).

The primary goal of the Academy was to educate citizens for statesmanship.

Plato, like Socrates, did not except fees for his teaching. The Academy
was left to the son of Plato’s sister, Speusippus, when Plato died in
347B.C. Emperor Justinian then closed the Academy in 529B.C.


Vision of the Soul
“In his writings, Plato addressed perennial questions like “What
constitutes the good life?” and “What sort of individual should I strive to
become?”(Falikowski 16). To answer such questions, Plato paid particular
attention to the soul. Plato assigned the human soul an intermediary
position between the World of Becoming and the World of Ideal Being. The
soul to him was immortal by nature, even though it is not external. The
soul unlike physical things, can survive change. Plato envisioned the soul
as having three divisions with individual duties. These divisions were
made up of the reason, spirit, and appetite. The reason is the part we
might refer to as the intellect, “It seeks knowledge and understanding.

The ability to think and make up our minds before we act, is by means of
reason” (Falikowski 17). In other words, it is passion, which includes our
self-assertive tendencies. “As the emotional element of the psyche, spirit
manifests itself in our need to love and be loved” (Falikowski 17). When
we wish to make an impression, to make us be accepted and or admired by
others, or when we work hard to be liked, our spirit is our motivating
force. The third division is our appetite. The appetite or “desire,” the
physical side of our selves, seeks to satisfy our biological instinctive
urges. According to Falikowski:
“Plato describes it metaphorically using the example of a
charioteer in control of two