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Plato (427 B.C. - 347 B.C.)


Few definite details are known of Plato's life. He was born in Athens c. 427 BC and was the youngest son of Ariston, of an old and wealthy family. It is claimed that his real name was Aristocles, with "Plato" (meaning "the broad") being a nickname given to him because of his wrestler's physique.

He served in the last years of the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta, and after democracy was restored in Athens in 403 BC he hoped to enter politics. However, the realities of political life as well as the execution of his mentor Socrates in 399 BC drove him to abandon this goal.

After the death of Socrates, Plato left Athens and traveled in Italy, Sicily and Egypt, where he learned the function of a water clock. In Italy he came in contact with the ideas of Pythagoras, which gave him a new appreciation of mathematics.

After serving again in the military, he returned to Athens in 387 BC and founded his Academy, which he presided over until his death in 347 BC and which survived for nearly a thousand years after.

His works include discussions of mathematics, ethics, science and philosophy, usually in the form of dialogues. Some of the most famous are the Republic, Phaedo, and Symposium.

Famous quotations by Plato:

  • A hero is born among a hundred, a wise man is found among a thousand, but an accomplished one might not be found even among a hundred thousand men.

  • All men are by nature equal, made all of the same earth by one Workman; and however we deceive ourselves, as dear unto God is the poor peasant as the mighty prince.

  • Courage is a kind of salvation.

  • Courage is knowing what not to fear.

  • Cunning... is but the low mimic of wisdom.

  • Democracy... is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder; and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequals alike.

  • Democracy passes into despotism.

  • Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws.

  • He was a wise man who invented beer.

  • He who is of calm and happy nature will hardly feel the pressure of age, but to him who is of an opposite disposition youth and age are equally a burden.

  • Honesty is for the most part less profitable than dishonesty.

  • Knowledge is true opinion.

  • Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind.

  • Knowledge without justice ought to be called cunning rather than wisdom.

  • To love rightly is to love what is orderly and beautiful in an educated and disciplined way.

  • We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.

  • When the tyrant has disposed of foreign enemies by conquest or treaty, and there is nothing more to fear from them, then he is always stirring up some war or other, in order that the people may require a leader.

  • Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something.

  • Suggested sites for Plato:

    Encyclopedia article about Plato
    Texts by Plato
    A "defense" of the beliefs of Socrates.
    An discourse on the answer to the question: Is it right to disobey the State?
    An attempt by Plato to define virtue. Can it be taught?
    The Republic
    Detailed discussion and treatise about whether it is better to live justly or unjustly.

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