Plato was one of the most popular philosophers of classical Greek philosophy period. He learned under Socrates, a puzzling yet unpopular classical Greek philosopher, who is credited with the birth of western philosophical ideas (Boeree para 18).
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Western philosophy is the school of thought that was propagated by philosophers from western world, which included ancient Greece, Australia and North America. Modern scholars believe that Arisctocles, Plato’s’ real name, was born in Athens between 429 and 423 BC to an aristocratic family (Boeree para 10).
His Socrates mentor was a very unpopular figure in classical Greek. He was accused of corrupting the morals of the youth and misleading the citizens with his unorthodox political and religious views. As a result, the Athenian government sentenced him to death and executed him by forcefully giving him a poisonous drink in front of his students. His death devastated his most devoted student Plato so much that he fled Athens.
He traveled the world and was captured by pirates, who demanded ransom. His friends raised the ransom but when he was released without the ransom, he used the money to buy a piece of land and established an academy in Athens to teach the youth morals. The purpose of this paper is to highlight how Plato’s close relationship with Socrates shaped his philosophical beliefs.
The relationship between Plato and Socrates influenced Plato’s philosophical views abundantly. Most of Socratic ideas are described in Plato’s recorded works, the Dialogues. One of the most popular views he borrowed from Socrates is the Socratic Method of Inquiry. Socrates Method stated that solutions to the most stubborn questions could only be arrived at through constant enquiry into the problem.
The inquirer must formulate several questions, which philosophers would deliberate on, until a conclusive answer is arrived at. This theory is the birth of modern scientific enquiry procedures that begins with a simple hypothesis, followed by the formulation of questions. Scientific philosophers then conduct an extensive research until solutions are arrived at (smith para 40).
Plato was a democrat who believed in the freedom of expression. That is why he was devastated by the Athenian government’s decision to kill his beloved mentor Socrates, who held liberal thoughts and threatened the very existence of the Athenian government. Many scholars have argued that Plato’s proposal to abolish Socrates’ philosophical inquiries was designed to intimidate a free society.
However, Rowe explains that his abolition actually showed the need for democracy and tolerance to dissenting views (63-76). Because of his belief in a free society Plato allowed even women to enroll as students in his Academy and study any discipline she wished (Boeree para 10).
Plato taught his students that all people are naturally good-natured, that they are inclined to do good if they know what good is. He explained that the disparity between good and bad character is ignorance, not sin. What people called bad and sin is actually ignorance about the good. He argues that these disparities are not to be punished. A person had to be educated until all this ignorance is eliminated (Guthrie 56).
Continuous teaching and de-corruption of morals changes a person’s bad character, creating a genuine genius solely made up of only the good characteristics (Guthrie 166). This theory is informed by the unjust execution of his mentor by the Athenian government. He felt that Socrates should not have been executed for his orthodox beliefs but should have been given a chance to unlearn his ignorance and replace it with knowledge about good character.
Plato had a very close and personal relationship with his mentor. The relationship was so close that Socrates, in his apology defending himself against corruption, motioned Plato by name as his most corrupted followers. As a result of his close relationship with Socrates, Plato forged a fatherly relationship with his students.
This is seen especially in how he mentored Aristotle one of his students. Karamanolis, in his 2006 findings states that Plato thought Aristotle as an authority in philosophy worth an extensive commentary (2). This highlights the fact that he extended the same intimate relationship he enjoyed with his mentor towards his students.
Plato also imitated Socrates ideals on souls and immortality. He recorded in one of his Dialogues tilted Meno that the human soul does not die. According to Plato, the souls existed prior to a person’s birth. Socrates explains that the soul, before it was born, existed in the realms of ideas (Rowe Para 43). This immortal soul is what Plato called ideal form. Plato also argues that the ideal forms can be reincarnated as different forms.
Socrates’ influence on Plato was instant from the time Plato heard of him. Plato had begun his career as a writer of tragic plays. However, on hearing of Socrates talk, he immediately abandoned his trade and opted to follow Socrates (Smith para 30). Plato was so attracted to Socrates philosophy that he made him the principal character in his Dialogues.
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Socrates preferred to have dialogue with his students, which Plato recorded. The reader is able to see Socrates’ through Plato’s dialogue. So much is Socrates presence in the dialogues that readers cannot easily distinguish between the real Socrates and Plato’s Socrates (Smith para 22). Some scholars have actually argued that Socrates was a creation of Plato but there is no evidence to that effect.
Plato’s idea of love also reflects a lot about Socrates philosophy on love. Plato describes love as a process beginning with the erotic love, what he called Eros. Eros is the kind of love that only satisfies the physical pleasures. This love is degrading, as it is only physical.
Like Socrates, Plato believed that lovers ought to seek to ascend the higher realms of love, which is the essence of attraction to inner beauty and intellect. Plato argues that lovers waste themselves by limiting their love only to the fulfillment of physical desires (Smith para 68). This witnessed the birth of what is nowadays known as Platonic relationships.
In conclusion, many scholars have not been able to differentiate the real Socrates and Plato’s Socrates. This is because Socrates is only seen through Plato’s literature. Socrates influence spreads out to different ideas such as the vanity of Eros love, immortality of the soul and justice, just to mention a few.
Socrates execution had a profound effect on Plato’s philosophy about government. He philosophized that a government must be just and should accommodate alternative views. This view is the basis of most modern day government. Socrates therefore made Plato.
Boeree, George. “The Ancient Greeks, Part Two: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle,” 2009. Retrieved from http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/athenians.html
Guthrie, William. “A History of Greek Philosophy: The Later Plato and the Academy”, New York: University of Cambridge, 1978. Print.
Karamanolis, George. “Plato and Aristotle in agreement? Platonist on Aristotle from Antiochus to Porphury,” New York: Oxford University press. 2006. Web.
Rowe, Christopher. “The Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies; The Journal of Hellenic Studies,” 2001. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/631828?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
Smith, Nicholas. “Plato (427—347 BCE); Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy,” 2009. Retrieved from https://www.iep.utm.edu/plato/#SH2d