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Plato was a great student of Socrates and a teacher of Aristotle who became the most famous philosopher of all time. He is thought to have been born in 428 or 427 BCE. He was the son of a Greek aristocrat named Ariston, who claimed descent from the deity Poseidon; his mother was Perictione.
As a pupil of Socrates, Plato was greatly inspired by the latter’s teaching and his life and death circumstances. We know a lot about Socrates, who never wrote, because of his prolific students like Plato.
Plato’s reasoning and conversational approach is unmistakably Socratic, and it was in this manner that he was able to derive and produce his most well-known philosophical contributions. These include Forms theory, Platonic realism, ethics, and philosophy of religion, among many more. He effectively defined philosophy as we know it now.
Plato’s writings are usually regarded to have occurred in three separate periods: the early, middle, and late writings, or dialogues, as they are known. Our adventure will begin with Plato’s definition of knowing.
Plato held that truth is objective and the consequence of beliefs that have been properly justified and grounded in reason. As a result, knowledge is a justified and genuine belief. This statement leads to numerous conclusions:
Plato also believed that true knowledge is buried deep within our subconscious and that we rely on this information when we know Forms like Beauty, Equality, Justice, and so on.
That’s because, according to him, these are qualities that cannot be taught but are innate in every individual. This is a direct result of his faith in:
Plato enjoyed using allegories and fables to convey his thoughts. Consider this narrative, in which Plato used it as an allegory when one of his followers begged him to provide proof of immortality. It should be noted that this does not imply that his thinking was valid.
Assume you have two line segments. These line segments are equal – or, at least, you believe they are. What is the foundation of your conviction in their equality? He rightly deduces that you must first know the size of the segments, which you obtain by analyzing information presented by your senses.
The issue is how you understand the concept of equality. Were you taught about it? It cannot be since senses are finite and subject to error. On the other hand, as one of the (good) forms, Equality is everlasting and cannot change. In a moment, I’ll talk about Plato’s Forms.
Thus, since the concept of Equality is changeless, you can only know it if you have already experienced it in a plane where Equality as a Form is present, true, everlasting, and changeless. Thus, the soul is immortal, having travelled through such a plane and retaining knowledge of the Forms, albeit unconscious and veiled.
While Plato believed in reincarnation during the middle era of his writings, it is important to note that he changed his opinion on some of his core views, as seen by his later works. After briefly mentioning Plato’s Forms of Knowledge, it is time to delve more into the topic of Plato’s Forms.
Plato’s philosophical ideas are founded on several basic doctrines, the most important of which is the concept of Forms. Knowledge is founded on genuine facts, from which we derive true propositions during the learning process. These ideas or items are universal because they can describe or characterize a wide range of real-world objects.
The word form is defined as “appearance” or “shape.” Forms, according to Plato, are the true essences of what a substance or thing truly is and are the answer to the query “what is that?” He adds that what we perceive through the interaction of our senses is merely an image of the substance’s true essence. Taking this stance, he explains that this world is imperfect and riddled with errors, preventing us from truly seeing and understanding the genuine Forms.
Take the notion of Beauty, for example. Plato would argue that Beauty is a genuine, active, perfect, and eternal essence that isn’t just a feature of an object, but a quality it acquires by interaction with the Form of Beauty. As a result, beauty is both a trait and an essence capable of interaction. That is the idea of self-prediction.
In this artwork, Beauty Itself is completely and exclusively beautiful and exists independently of the other objects that share it. Plato’s theory of knowledge in the Phaedo emphasizes the Forms’ nature and refers to them as monoeides. As a result, all other items are less lovely than Beauty, which is beautiful in and of itself. However, there are various views on whether attractiveness is a feature of Beauty or whether the Form and Essence of Beauty are the same things.
In any case, Plato solved the problem of universals, an ancient philosophical dilemma of whether object properties such as colour and shape exist outside of the objects themselves.
The other Forms, in addition to Beauty, are:
Plato would devote great attention to each of these Forms in his later dialogues, arguing that the philosopher gets true knowledge by comprehending the universe of Forms with his mind, although the sole proof of reality is inadequate and possibly erroneous copies of the Forms.
Plato’s Forms can now be defined as unchanging abstract representations of the universe around us. These archetypes represent the true nature of reality, or at least what we know of it. In other words, even though we view them in low light, these images portray the True Forms. Plato’s allegory of the cave is the greatest way to grasp this concept.
Assume there are humans in a cave shackled to the cave’s wall. They cannot turn their heads, and all they can see is the cave’s wall. A fire burns behind the walls, casting shadows and illuminating various objects in passing. However, because they cannot swivel their heads, all that can be seen are shadows.
This extremely basic cave allegory graphic serves to describe the theories that follow. The prisoners – for that is what the people are – have no other reality than what they can see in the cave wall’s shadows. They cannot perceive any other reality than the one they can see and consequently mistake appearance for reality.
Plato then poses a question: what are the inmates talking about when they talk about the things they see on the wall? For example, if somebody saw a car in the shadows and remarked, “There’s a car there.” Is the phrase “vehicle” referring to the shadow on the wall or the actual car lighted by the fire? Because the convicts cannot see the real car, the former must be correct.
As a result, the names we give to objects in our worlds are not their true identities but rather the names of their shadows. Only by being freed from our shackles will our understanding be able to see the true Forms hidden beneath the shadows.
The chained inmates begin a guessing game to see which image will appear next. If one of them predicts accurately by chance, the others will regard him as clever and intelligent. As a result, empirical knowledge about our surroundings is admired and desired.
Assume one prisoner is released, allowing him to turn around and observe what is behind him. He’d notice the fire, and its bright light would initially blind him. However, as his eyes adjusted, he realized that what was on the cave wall were simply shadows of other objects. However, as you can see, he would need to first ascend a steep elevation to discover the fire and the real objects or Forms.
The prisoner could see the light of the sun trickling into the cave just beyond the fire. He would then discover a far greater and better Light, and he could follow it out of the cave, where the entire world awaits. However, after spending so much time in the cave, the strong sunshine would dazzle, if not temporarily blind him. In what is known as The Return, he may be driven to return to the cave to which he is accustomed out of fear.
Plato remarks that only the genuinely brave philosopher emerges from the cave to face the light – the truth of reality as it is. And, if he were to try to release the other prisoners and reveal this reality to them, they would believe he was “infected” or had gotten ill as a result of venturing outside the cave, turned on him, and murdering him. Of course, this is a reference to Socrate’s forced suicide after being accused of “polluting the youth of Athens.”
Plato gives us another glimpse into his ontology and how he defines the many levels and forms of knowledge in his divided line theory in his dialogue titled “The Republic.” The discussion is held between Plato’s brother, Glaucon, and Socrates.
It follows directly after the Sun simile, in which the freed prisoner has left the cave and seen the outside world. After being illuminated by it, Plato claims that man possesses four levels of knowledge, which he refers to as emotions of the psyche.
Consider them to represent rising levels of reality, truth, belief, and finally, the purest condition of existence. It is profoundly metaphysical and best expressed by the ascending line imagery below.
Take a line that has been divided into two unequal halves, then divide each component in the same proportions again. Assume that the two main divisions represent reality’s visible and intelligible elements. Each of the four sections is now assigned based on its clarity. We end up with something like this after drawing the line.
The visible world is made up of physical things’ shadows and reflections and the items themselves. The illusion of ordinary experience and the belief (Pistis) in discrete physical realities, of which the natural sciences are a part, are the forms of knowledge in this universe.
The comprehensible universe is divided into two portions as well. The human spirit uses arithmetic and figures to comprehend the eternal as directed by physical objects. At the highest level, it comprehends and perceives the condition of being without the use of numbers.
Plato is claimed to have mingled with the famous mathematician Pythagoras students, which left an indelible influence on him. As a result, he claims, mathematical reasoning extends beyond the physical world and aids us in comprehending the true nature of things. The highest world is one above all hypotheses and figures, attained after death.
Plato was deeply interested in ethics and justice, and many of his conversations appear to be directly related to these. For one thing, he believed that a happy soul is a moral soul, that is, one that is guided by logic.
He also believed that the immortal soul has three appetitive (appetites and desires), spirited (emotional), and rational. To make good decisions, each must control and sync with the others. Happiness is the result of these wise decisions.
He also thought that each of these elements of the soul was exceptional. These excellences constitute virtue; virtue is the perfection of the soul as a whole.
All three, when combined, provide an excellence known as justice, which results from the three’s harmonic relationship. He saw virtue as a kind of understanding of good and evil that all human wants to strive for. Plato coined eudaimonia to describe the ultimate good or virtue, resulting in Eudaimonism.
This virtuous individual was assigned responsibilities in society based on his or her best strengths. Those with a great appetite could create more, and thus the state’s producers were born. Farmers, labourers, merchants, servicemen, and others fall into this category. The Protective/Warrior cadre, including soldiers and police, had a strong spirit. Those with a strong reason/head are the Governing Rulers or Philosopher Kings, the community’s knowledgeable, rational, and wise leaders who make choices on their behalf.
As a result, this ideal, totalitarian state was despotic. Historians might find a lot of inspiration in the rigid state of ancient Sparta. Only a few, in his opinion, are competent to reign because of their virtue, education, and wisdom. It should be recalled that he was effectively rejecting the democratic ideas that dominated Athens at the time.
Plato went on to outline an educational system that focuses on teaching rulers to generate Philosopher Kings who have their reason, desires, and will in virtuous harmony to help objectively judge what is best for the citizens of the state. Such a ruler would be moderately fond of wisdom and courageous in enforcing it.
Plato practically suggested that being dominated by a dictator, good or evil, is preferable. As a result, the state’s sins fell on one person rather than on everyone, as would be the case in a democracy. He also prophesied that a tyrant state would degenerate into an aristocracy, a timocracy, an oligarchy, a democracy, and then back to tyranny.
This brief exposition of Plato’s theory of knowledge addresses only the most important aspects that a student would need to address in a Plato essay. There is much more to say about this incredible man and his profound impact on modern science, mathematics, and even religion.
Plato’s view of God as the One, the Good, and the light is inextricably tied to the sun in his cave and split line allegory. Ancient religions, especially Christianity, have figurative linkages between God and the sun.
Plato believed that, just as the sun illuminates, heats, and stimulates the growth of everything visible in the world, Good illuminates the realm beyond where the Forms exist in their fullness and true essence. He did, however, believe that the creation was fundamentally an order of chaos into four elements: fire, air, water, and earth. These merged to form the Universe’s Body.
Finally, Plato believes that knowledge is recollected rather than learnt. As a result, it is the result of heavenly wisdom. He most likely coined the term “idea,” which means “having seen.” Plato is credited with founding the first institution, the Academy, located just outside of Athens. “Let no one enter who is unaware of geometry” was written above the door.
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