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Plato (pron.: /ˈplt/GreekΠλάτωνPlátōn, "broad"; 424/423 BC[a] – 348/347 BC) was a Classical Greek philosophermathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the foundations of Western philosophy and science. In the words ofA. N. Whitehead:

The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato. I do not mean the systematic scheme of thought which scholars have doubtfully extracted from his writings. I allude to the wealth of general ideas scattered through them.

Plato's sophistication as a writer is evident in his Socratic dialogues; thirty-six dialogues and thirteen letters have been ascribed to him. Plato's writings have been published in several fashions; this has led to several conventions regarding the naming and referencing of Plato's texts. Plato's dialogues have been used to teach a range of subjects, including philosophylogicethicsrhetoric, and mathematics. Plato is one of the most important founding figures in Western philosophy.

P L A T O 'S SYMPOSIUM By Anselm Feuerbach 1873

Birth and family

The exact place and time of Plato's birth are not known, but it is certain that he belonged to an aristocratic and influential family. Based on ancient sources, most modern scholars believe that he was born in Athens or Aegina[b] between 429 and 423 BC.[a] His father was Ariston. According to a disputed tradition, reported by Diogenes Laertius, Ariston traced his descent from the king of AthensCodrus, and the king of MesseniaMelanthus. Plato's mother wasPerictione, whose family boasted of a relationship with the famous Athenian lawmaker and lyric poet Solon.Perictione was sister of Charmides and niece ofCritias, both prominent figures of the Thirty Tyrants, the brief oligarchic regime, which followed on the collapse of Athens at the end of the Peloponnesian War(404–403 BC).[8] Besides Plato himself, Ariston and Perictione had three other children; these were two sons, Adeimantus and Glaucon, and a daughterPotone, the mother of Speusippus (the nephew and successor of Plato as head of his philosophical Academy).[8] According to the Republic, Adeimantus and Glaucon were older than Plato. Nevertheless, in his MemorabiliaXenophon presents Glaucon as younger than Plato.


The texts of Plato as received today apparently represent the complete written philosophical work of Plato and are generally good by the standards of textual criticism. No modern edition of Plato in the original Greek represents a single source, but rather it is reconstructed from multiple sources which are compared with each other. These sources are medieval manuscripts written on vellum (mainly from 9th-13th century AD Byzantium), papyri (mainly from late antiquity in Egypt), and from the independent testimonia of other authors who quote various segments of the works (which come from a variety of sources). The text as presented is usually not much different than what appears in the Byzantine manuscripts, and papyri and testimonia just confirm the manuscript tradition. In some editions however the readings in the papyri or testimonia are favoured in some places by the editing critic of the text.

In the first century AD, Thrasyllus of Mendes had compiled and published the works of Plato in the original Greek, both genuine and spurious. While it has not survived to the present day, all the extant medieval Greek manuscripts are based on his edition.

The oldest surviving complete manuscript for many of the dialogues is the Clarke Plato (Codex Oxoniensis Clarkianus 39, or Codex Boleianus MS E.D. Clarke 39), which was written in Constantinople in 895 and acquired by Oxford University in 1809. The Clarke is given the siglum B in modern editions. B contains the first six tetralogies and is described internally as being written by "John the Calligrapher" on behalf of Arethas of Caesarea. It appears to have undergone corrections by Arethas himself. For the last two tetralogies and the apocrypha, the oldest surviving complete manuscript is Codex Parisinus graecus 1807, designated A, which was written nearly contemporaneously to B, circa 900 AD.A probably had an initial volume containing the first 7 tetralogies which is now lost, but of which a copy was made, Codex Venetus append. class. 4, 1, which has the siglum T. The oldest manuscript for the seventh tetralogy is Codex Vindobonensis 54. suppl. phil. Gr. 7, with siglum W, with a supposed date in the twelfth century. In total there are fifty-one such Byzantine manuscripts known, while others may yet be found.



What was later to be known as Plato's school probably originated around the time Plato acquired inherited property at the age of thirty, with informal gatherings which included Theaetetus of SuniumArchytas of Tarentum, Leodamas of Thasos, and Neoclides. According to Debra Nails, Speusippus "joined the group in about 390." She claims, "It is not until Eudoxus of Cnidos arrives in the mid-380s thatEudemus recognizes a formal Academy." There is no historical record of the exact time the school was officially founded, but modern scholars generally agree that the time was the mid-380s, probably sometime after 387, when Plato is thought to have returned from his first visit to Italy and Sicily. Originally, the location of the meetings was Plato's property as often as it was the nearby Academy gymnasium; this remained so throughout the fourth century.

Though the Academic club was exclusive, not open to the public, it did not, during at least Plato's time, charge fees for membership. Therefore, there was probably not at that time a "school" in the sense of a clear distinction between teachers and students, or even a formal curriculum.There was, however, a distinction between senior and junior members. Two women are known to have studied with Plato at the Academy, Axiothea of Phlius and Lasthenia of Mantinea

In at least Plato's time, the school did not have any particular doctrine to teach; rather, Plato (and probably other associates of his) posed problems to be studied and solved by the others. There is evidence of lectures given, most notably Plato's lecture "On the Good"; but probably the use of dialecticwas more common. Above the entrance to the Academy was inscribed the phrase "Let None But Geometers Enter Here."

Many have imagined that the Academic curriculum would have closely resembled the one canvassed in Plato's Republic. Others, however, have argued that such a picture ignores the obvious peculiar arrangements of the ideal society envisioned in that dialogue. The subjects of study almost certainly included mathematics as well as the philosophical topics with which the Platonic dialogues deal, but there is little reliable evidence.There is some evidence for what today would be considered strictly scientific research: Simplicius reports that Plato had instructed the other members to discover the simplest explanation of the observable, irregular motion of heavenly bodies: "by hypothesizing what uniform and ordered motions is it possible to save the appearances relating to planetary motions." (According to Simplicius, Plato's colleague Eudoxus was the first to have worked on this problem.)

Diogenes Laërtius divided the history of the Academy into three: the Old, the Middle, and the New. At the head of the Old he put Plato, at the head of the Middle Academy, Arcesilaus, and of the New, LacydesSextus Empiricus enumerated five divisions of the followers of Plato. He made Plato founder of the first Academy; Arcesilaus of the second; Carneades of the third; Philo and Charmadas of the fourth;Antiochus of the fifth.  



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