In 428 BC in Athens, Plato, a world known philosopher was born in an aristocratic family. Perictione (of Solon), his mother, was a lawgiver and the author of Athens’ first constitution. His father, Ariston, was from the Codrus descendant who was Athens’ last King. In the book, The Republic, Plato seems to use his two brothers Adeimantus and Glaucon as the principal characters. After his father’s death, Plato’s mother remarried Pyrilampes who by then was the best friend to Pericles, Athens’ statesman. This change in life together with his youthful political upheavals attracted him into joining political sphere. However, two major setbacks turned him away from political and public life; amongst them being the wealth of the politicians at the expense of war and instability of the Athenians (Rorty, 2003).
His efforts to restore democratic systems in Athens failed. As such, Socrates, Plato and several others were arrested charged in court for corrupting the Athenian youths, not respecting the state’s deities and inventing democracy, a new deity in Athens. He was also charged for collaborating with people who had been rejected by Athens’ political systems. After the death of his mentor, Plato decided to continue with his work. He travelled to several places in the Mediterranean, learning and teaching before he settled in Athens. It is here that he opened an academy to instruct students from the Mediterranean in epistemology, metaphysics, politics, natural, as well as mathematical sciences and ethics. Students of this academy became famous people in the society as they got invitations to various cities to assist in developing their constitutions. As the academy director, Plato, spent the remaining part of his earthly life in the academy, and it is here that he wrote The Republic at around 380 BC (Rorty, 2003). From 385 BC till his death in 347, Plato had only gone away his academy only twice, which is to Sicily to practice his political theories in The Republic. The academy lasted for 912 years.
Plato’s first view focused in natural science. In this philosophy, Plato tried to explain that what people see around them is resulting from the application of very few simple rules or principles. This was in the 6th century BC, and the exact location was at Miletus Island in Greece. At this time, he had given little interest to politics and ethics. However, the political up heels of the 5th century in Greece raised the question of politics and ethics. This had put philosophers like Plato into action, not in natural science in this case, but on the issues of politics and ethics of the society. This change of action was got fueled by the Peloponnesian War between Sparta and Athens (between 431-404 BC). Although Athens lost in the war, the Homeric Heroes’ martial values and the democracy of the Athenians began to emerge as the core values of their society. People began asking for new and improved civic virtues as persuasive speaking and use of law courts to solve issues took the center stage. The purpose of war was no longer the traditional solutions of the Athenians’ problems (Rorty, 2003).
The need for education began to emerge, and people were ready to pay for sophist teachers to teach their children rhetorical skills that could improve their persuasiveness in the society. This new demand for moral values in the society led to the emergence of Sophists with varied teachings. The sophists lacked a cohesive Sophist school, and although they had divergent teachings, they all emphasized on the benefits of the teachings to the learners than the agent and the use of a cohesive schooling system. They thus lacked objective moral standards. Their argument was on the basis that there was nothing wrong or right, and scoffed more at the objective knowledge rather than truth. According to their teachings, morality was a convention imposed on people by the leaders to protect themselves from the weaker in the society. In Plato’s book, The Republic, Sophists like Thrasymachus declared immorality a virtue because it denied the rulers the right to exploit the weaker in the society; a sentiment that Plato agrees with as Callicles disagrees (Rorty, 2003). Callicles’ claims unjustified conventional morality as depriving the stronger their natural right to exploit the weaker in the society.
Socrates, Plato’s mentor, was motivated by the moral climate in Athens to further his morality agenda. He began by visiting people in the marketplaces and engaging them on issues of morality, reflection on their beliefs, lives and motivations. After his death, Plato took over this plan with the sole intention of combating selfishness and immorality in Athens. He further focused on combating the teachings of other sophists who proclaimed that there was no objective truth and knowledge.
The Impacts of Plato’s Teachings or Thoughts
The impacts of Plato’s philosophy are still felt till today. Through his ideas, he systemized the knowledge of man to provide a comprehensive life view, which is embedded on morality, democracy and social justice. Prior to his philosophy, several Greek thinkers had failed to internalize the meaning and reality of nature, what ethics, education, and proper social or political systems entailed. However, the genesis of Plato comprehensively internalized that nature, knowledge, ethics and politics cannot be isolated. They are all interrelated, systematic, unified, all comprising of the whole thing that make up a philosophy (Rorty, 2003).
Plato, through his thoughts, developed distinct philosophical areas that are still in use till today. Such areas include metaphysic, epistemology, aesthetics and ethics. Alfred North Whitehead notes that Plato’s thoughts deeply influenced the Western philosophies. He provided the safest and a clear characterization of the Western (European) tradition of philosophy that is thought to have been acquired from Plato’s footnotes.
Plato was a profound typical philosopher whose political ideologies had impacted on his political theory. Although one can say that being the student of Aristotle, he was greatly influenced by Aristotle’s ideologies; Plato created his political thoughts out of the Greek political systems. He later used them to influence the western political systems in several ways, some of them being the idea of democracy that is employed till today. Democracy is practiced world over, and it is still considered the world’s safest form of governance.
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His model of school, through his academy that he created in 385 BC. gave birth to higher learning institutions especially the European universities (Patočka, 2002). Currently, out of Plato’s thoughts and creation of the academy, several school and institutions of higher learning have developed not only in Europe but the world over.
Plato’s philosophy is characterized by his discussion methods touching on nature and reality, cognitive optimism as well the belief in the human mind in attaining truth and knowledge, and the use of this truth in rationalization and virtuous handling of human affairs. To disguise the ideas of other sophists that their no objective truth or morality, Plato came up with the Theory of Forms which proposes for the existence of another realm reality apart from the world we experience around us. He describes this realm as being purely intelligible and not observable within our sphere. It is created eternal, unchanging, and absolute in perfect forms and it’s only felt in our senses. Moreover, this constitutes the knowledge about the objective truth. These theories plus several other philosophical ideologies have improved the world of reasoning for the people living in it till today.