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Greek Philosopher: Plato
Born at Athens of a noble family, he intended to enter politics but was disgusted with Athenian political intrigue and disillusioned with the democratic regime.
He became a disciple of Socrates and was present at his trial. Visited Italy and on his return founded his school called the "Academy" (388 BC). The Academy taught a wide variety of subjects and aimed at fostering the disinterested study of science and ultimately at producing men who would be true statesmen.
After some time at the court of tyrants Dionysius and Dion of Syracuse, Plato continued his work in the Academy until his death.
Democracy... is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder; and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequals alike.
429 - 348 BC
Aristocles, better known as Plato, was born in Athens of distinguished lineage. Plato was born into a wealthy family and was attracted to political life. But he was discouraged by the corruption of politics in Athens and then horrified by the forced suicide of Socrates in 399 BC. He received the usual education of a high-born Athenian in athletics, music and literature. He distinguished himself in both poetry and athletics.
When Plato was twenty he became a disciple of Socrates, whose philosophy we know largely through Plato's writings. Much of Plato's early work was based on the teachings of his master Socrates which he recorded in the form of dialogues. He developed his ideas further after Socrates death. The teachings were based on the belief that absolute standards of virtue existed; that goodness came from true wisdom; and that evil came from ignorance and folly. After the death of his teacher, Plato traveled extensively in Egypt, Italy and Sicily. He is said to have been captured and sold as a slave in Aegina, and the ransom paid by friends.
Shortly afterwards he established his famous Academy in Athens, where he taught philosophy for forty years to small band of disciples. Among his distinguished pupils were Aristotle, Demosthenes and Lycurgus.
Plato's philosophy developed largely from that of his teacher, Socrates. Under their influence Greek philosophy shifted its focus from problems of the physical world to ethics, politics, knowledge and ideas. In his great books, the Laws and the Republic, Plato elaborated his doctrines of education, the role of laws and the structure of the ideal state.
In 367 BC Plato had the chance to undertake the training of such a ruler, in the person of Dionysius II of Syracuse, but the experiment was a dismal failure. Undiscouraged, Plato went back to Athens to teach in his philosophy school, the Academy, which he had founded in about 387 BC.
Plato died at a wedding feast in 347 BC in his eighty-first year. Tradition tells us that the old philosopher retired to a corner to rest and was found dead in the morning when the revels had ended. All Athens mourned her distinguished scholar.
The Academy continued to flourish after Plato's death until AD 529 when it was closed by the Byzantine emperor Justinian.
A school philosophy founded by Plotinus developed in Alexandria in the 3rd century AD was known as Neoplatonism. It lasted until the 6th century. Its practitioners sought to reconcile the philosophy of Plato with Christian beliefs.
Read more about Neoplatonism here.
The great Greek philosopher Plato taught his pupils in a garden just outside Athens. This garden was supposed to belong to a Greek hero called Academus, and it is from his name that the word "academy" orginates, for later people called Plato's school itself the Academy.
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