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Readings for Ancient Greece 2 --
Unit 17, Classical Greek Philosophy
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For Pre-Socratic Philosophers,
Ancient Greek Philosophy (from Internet
Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
2. Ancient Greek Philosophy (from
3. Socrates (from Wikipedia)
3a. Criticism of
Socratic thought (from Wikipedia)
(from Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
5. Aristotle (from Internet
Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
Peripatetic School (from Wikipedia)
6. Stoicism (from
Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
7. Epicureanism (from
8. Ancient Greek Skepticism
(from Internet Encyclopedia of
9. Neoplatonism (from
Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
10. Islamic Neoplatonism (from Islamic
11. Neoplatonism and
Christianity (from Wikipedia)
12. List of important Ancient Greek Philosophers (from
Ancient Greek Philosophy
Internet Encyclopedia of
The Ancient Greek philosophers have played a pivotal
role in the shaping of the western philosophical
tradition. This article surveys the seminal works
and ideas of key figures in the Ancient Greek
philosophical tradition from the Presocratics to the
Neoplatonists. It highlights their main
philosophical concerns and the evolution in their
thought from the sixth century BC to the sixth
Ancient Greek philosophical tradition broke away
from a mythological approach to explaining the
world, and it initiated an approach based on reason
and evidence. Initially concerned with explaining
the entire cosmos, the Presocratic philosophers
strived to identify its single underlying principle.
Their theories were diverse and none achieved a
consensus, yet their legacy was the initiation of
the quest to identify underlying principles.
sparked a series of investigations into the limit
and role of reason and of our sensory faculties, how
knowledge is acquired and what knowledge consists
of. Here we find the Greek creation of philosophy as
“the love of wisdom,” and the birth of metaphysics,
epistemology, and ethics. Socrates,
were the most influential of the ancient Greek
philosophers, and they focused their attention more
on the role of the human being than on the
explanation of the material world. The work of these
key philosophers was succeeded by the Stoics and
Epicureans who were also concerned with practical
aspects of philosophy and the attainment of
happiness. Other notable successors are Pyrrho's
school of skepticism
and the Neoplatonists such as Plotinus
who tried to unify Plato's thought with theology.
and his Followers
Western philosophical tradition began in ancient
Greece in the 6th century BCE. The first
philosophers are called "Presocratics" which
designates that they came before Socrates. The
Presocratics were from either the eastern or western
regions of the Greek world. Athens -- home of
Socrates, Plato and Aristotle
-- is in the central Greek region and was late in
joining the philosophical game. The Presocratic's
most distinguishing feature is emphasis on questions
of physics; indeed, Aristotle
refers to them as "Investigators of Nature". Their
scientific interests included mathematics,
astronomy, and biology. As the first philosophers,
though, they emphasized the rational unity of
things, and rejected mythological explanations of
the world. Only fragments of the original writings
of the Presocratics survive, in some cases merely a
single sentence. The knowledge we have of them
derives from accounts of early philosophers, such as
Aristotle's Physics and Metaphysics,
The Opinions of the Physicists by
Aristotle's pupil Theophratus, and Simplicius, a
Neoplatonist who compiled existing quotes.
first group of Presocratic philosophers were from
Ionia. The Ionian philosophers sought the material
principle (archê) of things, and the mode
of their origin and disappearance. Thales
of Miletus (about 640 BCE) is reputed the father of
Greek philosophy. He declared water to be the basis
of all things. Next came Anaximander
of Miletus (about 611-547 BCE), the first writer on
philosophy. He assumed as the first principle an
undefined, unlimited substance (to apeiron)itself
without qualities, out of which the primary
opposites, hot and cold, moist and dry, became
differentiated. His countryman and younger
took for his principle air, conceiving it as
modified, by thickening and thinning, into fire,
wind, clouds, water, and earth. Heraclitus
of Ephesus (about 535-475 BCE) assumed as the
principle of substance aetherial fire. From fire all
things originate, and return to it again by a
never-resting process of development. All things,
therefore, are in a perpetual flux. However, this
perpetual flux is structured by logos--
which most basically means 'word,' but can also
designate 'argument,' 'logic,' or 'reason' more
generally. The logos which structures the
human soul mirrors the logos which
structures the ever-changing processes of the
was first brought into connection with practical
life by Pythagoras
of Samos (about 582-504 BCE), from whom it received
its name: "the love of wisdom". Regarding the world
as perfect harmony, dependent on number, he aimed at
inducing humankind likewise to lead a harmonious
life. His doctrine was adopted and extended by a
large following of Pythagoreans, including Damon,
especially in Lower Italy.
country was also the home of the Eleatic doctrine of
the One, called after the town of Elea, the
headquarters of the school. It was founded by Xenophanes
of Colophon (born about 570 BCE), the father of
pantheism, who declared God to be the eternal unity,
permeating the universe, and governing it by his
thought. His great disciple, Parmenides
of Elea (born about 511), affirmed the one
unchanging existence to be alone true and capable of
being conceived, and multitude and change to be an
appearance without reality. This doctrine was
defended by his younger countryman Zeno
in a polemic against the common opinion, which sees
in things multitude, becoming, and change. Zeno
propounded a number of celebrated paradoxes, much
debated by later philosophers, which try to show
that supposing that there is any change or
multiplicity leads to contradictions. The primary
legacy of Zeno is that subsequent scholars became
very aware of the difficulty of properly handling
the concept of infinity.
of Agrigentum (born 492 BCE) appears to have been
partly in agreement with the Eleatic School, partly
in opposition to it. On the one hand, he maintained
the unchangeable nature of substance; on the other,
he supposes a plurality of such substances -- i. e.
the four elements, earth, water, air, and fire. Of
these the world is built up, by the agency of two
ideal principles as motive forces -- namely, love as
the cause of union, strife as the cause of
separation. Empedocles was also the first person to
propound an evolutionary account of the development
of Clazomenae (born about 500 BCE) also maintained
the existence of an ordering principle as well as a
material substance, and while regarding the latter
as an infinite multitude of imperishable primary
elements, qualitatively distinguished, he conceived
divine reason or Mind (nous) as ordering
them. He referred all generation and disappearance
to mixture and resolution respectively. To him
belongs the credit of first establishing philosophy
at Athens, in which city it reached its highest
development, and continued to have its home for one
thousand years without intermission.
first explicitly materialistic system was formed by
(fifth century BCE) and his pupil Democritus
of Abdera (born about 460 BCE). This was the
doctrine of atoms -- literally 'uncuttables' --
small primary bodies infinite in number, indivisible
and imperishable, qualitatively similar, but
distinguished by their shapes. Moving eternally
through the infinite void, they collide and unite,
thus generating objects which differ in accordance
with the varieties, in number, size, shape, and
arrangement, of the atoms which compose them.
efforts of all these earlier philosophers had been
directed somewhat exclusively to the investigation
of the ultimate basis and essential nature of the
external world. Hence their conceptions of human
knowledge, arising out of their theories as to the
constitution of things, had been no less various.
The Eleatics, for example, had been compelled to
deny that senses give one any access to the truth,
since to the world of sense, with its multitude and
change, they allowed only a phenomenal existence.
However, reason can give one knowledge of what the
One is like--or, more accurately, what it is not
the skepticism of the Eleatics about the senses,
while rejecting their doctrines about the ability of
reason to reach truth apart from the senses, the Sophists
held that all thought rests solely on the
apprehensions of these senses and on subjective
impression, and that therefore we have no other
standards of action than convention for the
individual. Specializing in rhetoric, the Sophists
were more professional educators than philosophers.
They flourished as a result of a special need for at
that time for Greek education. Prominent Sophists
2. Socrates and his Followers
new period of philosophy opens with the Athenian
Socrates (469-399 BCE). Like the Sophists, he
rejected entirely the physical speculations in which
his predecessors had indulged, and made the thoughts
and opinions of people his starting-point; but
whereas it was the thoughts of and opinions of the
individual that the Sophists took for the standard,
Socrates questioned people relentlessly about their
beliefs. He tried to find the definitions of the
virtues, such as courage and justice, by
cross-examining people who professed to have
knowledge of them. His method of cross-examining
people, the elenchus, did not succeed in
establishing what the virtues really were, but
rather it exposed the ignorance of his
was an enormously magnetic figure, who attracted
many followers, but he also made many enemies.
Socrates was executed for corrupting the youth of
Athens and for disbelieving in the gods of the city.
This philosophical martyrdom, however, simply made
Socrates an even more iconic figure than would have
been otherwise, and many later philosophical schools
took Socrates as their hero.
Socrates' numerous disciples many either added
nothing to his doctrine, or developed it in a
one-sided manner, by confining themselves
exclusively either to dialectic or to ethics. Thus
the Athenian Xenophon
contented himself, in a series of writings, with
exhibiting the portrait of his master to the best of
his comprehension, and added nothing original. The
Megarian School, founded by Euclides
of Megara, devoted themselves almost entirely to
dialectic investigation of the one Good. Stilpo
of Megara became the most distinguished member of
the school. Ethics predominated both with the Cynics
although their positions were in direct opposition.
of Athens, the founder of the Cynics,
conceived the highest good to be the virtue which
spurns every enjoyment. Cynicism continued in Greece
with Menippus and on to Roman times through the
efforts of Demonax
and others. Aristippus
of Cyrene, the founder of the Cyrenaics,considered
pleasure to be the sole end in life, and regarded
virtue as a good only in so far as it contributed to
aspects of the genius of Socrates were first united
in Plato of Athens (428-348 BCE), who also combined
with them many the principles established by earlier
philosophers, and developed the whole of this
material into the unity of a comprehensive system.
The groundwork of Plato's scheme, though nowhere
expressly stated by him, is the threefold division
of philosophy into dialectic, ethics, and physics;
its central point is the theory of forms. This
theory is a combination of the Eleatic doctrine of
the One with Heraclitus's theory of a perpetual flux
and with the Socratic method of concepts. The
multitude of objects of sense, being involved in
perpetual change, are thereby deprived of all
genuine existence. The only true being in them is
founded upon the forms, the eternal, unchangeable
(independent of all that is accidental, and
therefore perfect) archetypes, of which the
particular objects of sense are imperfect copies.
The quantity of the forms is defined by the number
of universal concepts which can be derived from the
particular objects of sense.
highest form is that of the Good, which is the
ultimate basis of the rest, and the first cause of
being and knowledge. Apprehensions derived from the
impression of sense can never give us the knowledge
of true being -- i.e. of the forms. It can only be
obtained by the soul's activity within itself, apart
from the troubles and disturbances of sense; that is
to say, by the exercise of reason. Dialectic, as the
instrument in this process, leading us to knowledge
of the ideas, and finally of the highest idea of the
Good, is the first of sciences (scientia
scientiarum). In physics, Plato adhered
(though not without original modifications) to the
views of the Pythagoreans, making Nature a harmonic
unity in multiplicity. His ethics are founded
throughout on the Socratic; with him, too, virtue is
knowledge, the cognition of the supreme form of the
Good. And since in this cognition the three parts of
the soul -- cognitive, spirited, and appetitive --
all have their share, we get the three virtues:
Wisdom, Courage, and Temperance or Continence. The
bond which unites the other virtues is the virtue of
Justice, by which each several part of the soul is
confined to the performance of its proper function.
school founded by Plato, called the Academy
(from the name of the grove of the Attic hero
Academus where he used to deliver his lectures)
continued for long after. In regard to the main
tendencies of its members, it was divided into the
three periods of the Old, Middle, and New Academy.
The chief personages in the first of these were
Speusippus (son of Plato's sister), who succeeded
him as the head of the school (till 339 BCE), and
Xenocrates of Chalcedon (till 314 BCE). Both of them
sought to fuse Pythagorean speculations on number
with Plato's theory of ideas. The two other
Academies were still further removed from the
specific doctrines of Plato, and advocated skepticism.
most important among Plato's disciples is Aristotle
of Stagira (384-322 BCE), who shares with his
master the title of the greatest philosopher of
antiquity. But whereas Plato had sought to elucidate
and explain things from the supra-sensual standpoint
of the forms, his pupil preferred to start from the
facts given us by experience. Philosophy to him
meant science, and its aim was the recognition of
the purpose in all things. Hence he establishes the
ultimate grounds of things inductively -- that is to
say, by a posteriori conclusions from a
number of facts to a universal. In the series of
works collected under the name of Organon,
sets forth the laws by which the human understanding
effects conclusions from the particular to the
knowledge of the universal.
Plato, he recognizes the true being of things in
their concepts, but denies any separate existence of
the concept apart from the particular objects of
sense. They are inseparable as matter and form. In
matter and form, Aristotle
sees the fundamental principles of being. Matter is
the basis of all that exists; it comprises the
potentiality of everything, but of itself is not
actually anything. A determinate thing only comes
into being when the potentiality in matter is
converted into actuality. This is effected by form,
inherent in the unified object and the completion of
the potentiality latent in the matter. Although it
has no existence apart form the particulars, yet, in
rank and estimation, form stands first; it is of its
own nature the most knowable, the only true object
of knowledge. For matter without any form cannot
exist, but the essential definitions of a common
form, in which are included the particular objects
may be separated from matter. Form and matter are
relative terms, and the lower form constitutes the
matter of a higher (e.g. body, soul, reason). This
series culminates in pure, immaterial form, the
Deity, the origin of all motion, and therefore of
the generation of actual form out of potential
motion takes place in space and time; for space is
the potentiality, time the measure of the motion.
Living beings are those which have in them a moving
principle, or soul. In plants the function of soul
is nutrition (including reproduction); in animals,
nutrition and sensation; in humans, nutrition,
sensation, and intellectual activity. The perfect
form of the human soul is reason separated from all
connection with the body, hence fulfilling its
activity without the help of any corporeal organ,
and so imperishable. By reason the apprehensions,
which are formed in the soul by external
sense-impressions, and may be true or false, are
converted into knowledge. For reason alone can
attain to truth either in cognition or action.
Impulse towards the good is a part of human nature,
and on this is founded virtue; for Aristotle
does not, with Plato, regard virtue as knowledge
pure and simple, but as founded on nature, habit,
and reason. Of the particular virtues (of which
there are as many as there are contingencies in
life), each is the apprehension, by means of reason,
of the proper mean between two extremes which are
not virtues -- e.g. courage is the mean between
cowardice and foolhardiness. The end of human
activity, or the highest good, is happiness, or
perfect and reasonable activity in a perfect life.
To this, however, external goods are more of less
followers of Aristotle, known as Peripatetics
of Lesbos, Eudemus of Rhodes, Strato of Lampsacus,
etc.), to a great extent abandoned metaphysical
speculation, some in favor of natural science,
others of a more popular treatment of ethics,
introducing many changes into the Aristotelian
doctrine in a naturalistic direction. A return to
the views of the founder first appears among the
later Peripatetics, who did good service as
expositors of Aristotle's works, such as Avicenna
Peripatetic School tended to make philosophy the
exclusive property of the learned class, thereby
depriving it of its power to benefit a wider circle.
This soon produced a negative reaction, and
philosophers returned to the practical standpoint of
Socratic ethics. The speculations of the learned
were only admitted in philosophy where serviceable
for ethics. The chief consideration was how to
popularize doctrines, and to provide the individual,
in a time of general confusion and dissolution, with
a fixed moral basis for practical life.
were the aims of Stoicism,
founded by Athens about 310 by Zeno of Citium (in
Cyprus), and brought to fuller systematic form by
his successors a heads of the school, Cleanthes
of Assos, and especially Chrysippus
of Soli, who died about 206. Important Stoic
writers of the Roman period include Epictetus
and Marcus Aurelius. Their doctrines contained
little that was new, seeking rather to give a
practical application to the dogmas which they took
ready-made from previous systems. With them
philosophy is the science of the principles on which
the moral life ought to be founded. The only
allowable effort is towards the attainment of
knowledge of human and divine things, in order to
thereby regulate life. The method to lead men to
true knowledge is provided by logic; physics
embraces the doctrines as to the nature and
organization of the universe; ethics draws from them
its conclusions for practical life. Regarding Stoic
logic, all knowledge originates in the real
impressions of things on the senses, which the soul,
being at birth a blank slate, receives in the form
of presentations. These presentations, when
confirmed by repeated experience, are
syllogistically developed by the understanding into
concepts. The test of their truth is the convincing
or persuasive force with which they impress
themselves upon the soul.
physics the foundation of the Stoic
doctrine was the dogma that all true being is
corporeal. Within the corporeal they recognized two
principles, matter and force -- that is, the
material, and the Deity (logos, order,
fate) permeating and informing it. Ultimately,
however, the two are identical. There is nothing in
the world with any independent existence: all is
bound together by an unalterable chain of causation.
The agreement of human action with the law of
nature, of the human will with the divine will, or
life according to nature, is virtue, the chief good
and highest end in life. It is essentially one, the
particular or cardinal virtues of Plato being only
different aspects of it; it is completely sufficient
for happiness, and incapable of any differences of
degree. All good actions are absolutely equal in
merit, and so are all bad actions. All that lies
between virtue and vice is neither good nor bad; at
most, it is distinguished as preferable,
undesirable, or absolutely indifferent. Virtue is
fully possessed only by the wise person, who is no
way inferior in worth to Zeus; he is lord over his
own life, and may end it by his own free choice. In
general, the prominent characteristic of Stoic
philosophy is moral heroism, often verging on
same goal which was aimed at in Stoicism was also
approached, from a diametrically opposite position,
in the system founded about the same time by Epicurus,
of the deme Gargettus in Attica (342-268), who
brought it to completion himself. Epicureanism, like
Stoicism, is connected with previous systems. Like
Stoicism, it is also practical in its ends,
proposing to find in reason and knowledge the secret
of a happy life, and admitting abstruse learning
only where it serves the ends of practical wisdom.
Hence, logic (called by Epicurus (kanonikon),
or the doctrine of canons of truth) is made entirely
subservient to physics, physics to ethics. The
standards of knowledge and canons of truth in
theoretical matters are the impressions of the
senses, which are true and indisputable, together
with the presentations formed from such impressions,
and opinions extending beyond those impressions, in
so far as they are supported or not contradicted by
the evidence of the senses. In practical questions
the feelings of pleasure and pain are the tests.
Epicurus's physics, in which he follows in
essentials the materialistic system of Democritus,
are intended to refer all phenomena to a natural
cause, in order that a knowledge of nature may set
men free from the bondage of disquieting
ethics he followed within certain limits the Cyrenaic
doctrine, conceiving the highest good to be
happiness, and happiness to be found in pleasure, to
which the natural impulses of every being are
directed. But the aim is not with him, as it is with
the pleasure of the moment, but the enduring
condition of pleasure, which, in its essence, is
freedom from the greatest of evils, pain. Pleasures
and pains are, however, distinguished not merely in
degree, but in kind. The renunciation of a pleasure
or endurance of a pain is often a means to a greater
pleasure; and since pleasures of sense are
subordinate to the pleasures of the mind, the
undisturbed peace of the mind is a higher good than
the freedom of the body from pain. Virtue is
desirable not for itself, but for the sake of
pleasure of mind, which it secures by freeing people
from trouble and fear and moderating their passions
and appetites. The cardinal virtue is prudence,
which is shown by true insight in calculation the
consequences of our actions as regards pleasure or
practical tendency of Stoicism and Epicureanism,
seen in the search for happiness, is also apparent
in the Skeptical School founded by Pyrrho
of Elis (about 365-275 BCE). Pyrrho disputes the
possibility of attaining truth by sensory
apprehension, reason, or the two combined, and
thence infers the necessity of total suspension of
judgment on things. Thus can we attain release from
all bondage to theories, a condition which is
followed, like a shadow, by that imperturbable state
of mind which is the foundation of true happiness.
Pyrrho's immediate disciple was Timon.
Pyrrho's doctrine was adopted by the Middle and New
Academies (see above), represented by Arcesilaus of
Pitane (316-241 BCE) and Carneades
of Cyrene (214-129 BCE) respectively. Both attacked
the Stoics for asserting a criterion of truth in our
knowledge; although their views were indeed
skeptical, they seem to have considered that what
they were maintaining was a genuine tenet of
Socrates and Plato.
latest Academics, such as Antiochus of Ascalon
(about 80 BCE), fused with Platonism certain
Peripatetic and many Stoic dogmas, thus making way
to which all later antiquity tended after Greek
philosophy had spread itself over the Roman world. Roman
philosophy, thus, becomes an extension of the
Greek tradition. After the Christian era
Pythagoreanism, in a resuscitated form, again takes
its place among the more important systems.
was also re-introduced by Aenesidemus,
and developed further by Sextus Empiricus. But the
preeminence of this period belongs to Platonism,
which is notably represented in the works of
Plutarch of Chaeronea and the physician Galen.
closing period of Greek philosophy is marked in the
third century CE. by the establishment of Neoplatonism
in Rome. Its founder was Plotinus
of Lycopolis in Egypt (205-270) and its emphasis is
a scientific philosophy of religion, in which the
doctrine of Plato is fused with the most important
elements in the Aristotelian
systems and with Eastern speculations. At the summit
of existences stands the One or the Good, as the
source of all things. It emanates from itself, as if
from the reflection of its own being, reason,
wherein is contained the infinite store of ideas.
Soul, the copy of the reason, is emanated by and
contained in it, as reason is in the One, and, by
informing matter in itself non-existence,
constitutes bodies whose existence is contained in
soul. Nature, therefore, is a whole, endowed with
life and soul. Soul, being chained to matter, longs
to escape from the bondage of the body and return to
its original source. In virtue and philosophic
thought soul had the power to elevate itself above
the reason into a state of ecstasy, where it can
behold, or ascend up to, that one good primary Being
whom reason cannot know. To attain this union with
the Good, or God, is the true function of humans, to
whom the external world should be absolutely
most important disciple, the Syrian Porphyry,
contented himself with popularizing his master's
doctrine. But the school if Iamblichus, a disciple
of Porphyry, effected a change in the position of
Neoplatonism, which now took up the cause of
polytheism against Christianity, and adopted for
this purpose every conceivable form of superstition,
especially those of the East. Foiled in the attempt
to resuscitate the old beliefs, its supporters then
turned with fresh ardor to scientific work, and
especially to the study of Plato and Aristotle,
in the interpretation of whose works they rendered
great services. The last home of philosophy was at
Athens, where Proclus (411-485) sought to reduce to
a kind of system the whole mass of philosophic
tradition, until in 529 CE, the teaching of
philosophy at Athens was forbidden by Justinian.
Ancient Greek philosophy
Greek philosophy arose in the 6th century BCE and
continued throughout the Hellenistic period
and the period in which Ancient Greece was part
of the Roman Empire. It dealt with
a wide variety of subjects, including political philosophy,
ethics, metaphysics, ontology, logic, biology, rhetoric, and aesthetics.
Many philosophers today concede
that Greek philosophy has influenced much of Western culture since
its inception. Alfred North
Whitehead once noted: "The safest general
characterization of the European philosophical tradition
is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato."
Clear, unbroken lines of influence lead from ancient Greek and Hellenistic
philosophers to Early Islamic
philosophy, the European Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment.
claim that Greek philosophy, in turn, was influenced
by the older wisdom literature and mythological
cosmogonies of the ancient Near East. Martin Litchfield
West gives qualified assent to this view,
stating, "contact with oriental cosmology and theology helped to liberate the
philosophers' imagination; it certainly gave
them many suggestive ideas. But they taught themselves
to reason. Philosophy as we understand it is a Greek
philosophic tradition was so influenced by Socrates (as presented by Plato) that it is conventional to
refer to philosophy developed prior to Socrates as pre-Socratic
philosophy. The periods following this until the
Alexander the Great are those of "classical
Greek" and "Hellenistic" philosophy.
convention of terming those philosophers
who were active prior to Socrates the pre-Socratics
gained currency with the 1903 publication of Hermann Diels' Fragmente
der Vorsokratiker, although the term did not
originate with him.
The term is considered philosophically useful because
what came to be known as the "Athenian school"
(composed of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle) signaled a profound
shift in the subject matter and methods of philosophy;
thesis that this shift began with Plato rather than
with Socrates (hence his nomenclature of "pre-Platonic
philosophy") has not prevented the predominance of the
pre-Socratics were primarily concerned with cosmology, ontology and mathematics. They were
distinguished from "non-philosophers" insofar as they
rejected mythological explanations in favor of
of Miletus, regarded by Aristotle as the first
held that all things arise from water.
It is not because he gave a cosmogony that John Burnet
calls him the "first man of science," but because he
gave a naturalistic explanation of the cosmos and supported it with
According to tradition, Thales was able to predict an
eclipse and taught the
Egyptians how to measure the height of the pyramids.
inspired the Milesian school of
philosophy and was followed by Anaximander, who argued that
the substratum or arche could not be water or
any of the classical elements but
was instead something "unlimited" or "indefinite" (in
Greek, the apeiron). He
began from the observation that the world seems to
consist of opposites (e.g., hot and cold), yet a thing
can become its opposite (e.g., a hot thing cold).
Therefore, they cannot truly be opposites but rather
must both be manifestations of some underlying unity
that is neither. This underlying unity (substratum, arche)
could not be any of the classical elements, since they
were one extreme or another. For example, water is
wet, the opposite of dry, while fire is dry, the
opposite of wet.
Anaximenes in turn
held that the arche was air, although John
Burnet argues that by this he meant that it was a
transparent mist, the aether.
Despite their varied answers, the Milesian school was
searching for a natural substance that would remain
unchanged despite appearing in different forms, and
thus represents one of the first scientific attempts
to answer the question that would lead to the
development of modern atomic theory; "the Milesians,"
says Burnet, "asked for the φύσις of all things."
was born in Ionia, where the Milesian school
was at its most powerful, and may have picked up some
of the Milesians' cosmological theories as a result.
What is known is that he argued that each of the
phenomena had a natural rather than divine explanation
in a manner reminiscent of Anaximander's theories and
that there was only one god, the world as a whole, and
that he ridiculed the anthropomorphism of the
Greek religion by claiming that cattle would claim
that the gods looked like cattle, horses like horses,
and lions like lions, just as the Ethiopians claimed
that the gods were snubnosed and black and the
Thracians claimed they were pale and red-haired.
says that Xenophanes was not, however, a scientific
man, with many of his "naturalistic" explanations
having no further support than that they render the
Homeric gods superfluous or foolish.
He has been claimed as an influence on Eleatic philosophy, although
that is disputed, and a precursor to Epicurus, a representative of a
total break between science and religion.
Main article: Pythagoreanism
Pythagoras lived at roughly
the same time that Xenophanes did and, in contrast to
the latter, the school that he founded sought to
reconcile religious belief and reason. Little is known
about his life with any reliability, however, and no
writings of his survive, so it is possible that he was
simply a mystic whose successors
introduced rationalism into Pythagoreanism, that he
was simply a rationalist whose successors
are responsible for the mysticism in Pythagoreanism,
or that he was actually the author of the doctrine;
there is no way to know for certain.
is said to have been a disciple of Anaximander and to have
imbibed the cosmological concerns of the
Ionians, including the idea that the cosmos is
constructed of spheres, the importance of the
infinite, and that air or aether is the arche
Pythagoreanism also incorporated ascetic ideals, emphasizing
purgation, metempsychosis, and
consequently a respect for all animal life; much was
made of the correspondence between mathematics and the
cosmos in a musical harmony.
must have lived after Xenophanes and Pythagoras, as he
condemns them along with Homer as proving that much
learning cannot teach a man to think; since Parmenides refers to him in
the past tense, this would place him in the 5th
Contrary to the Milesian school, who
would have one stable element at the root of all,
Heraclitus taught that "everything flows" or
"everything is in flux," the closest element to this flux
being fire; he also extended the teaching that seeming
opposites in fact are manifestations of a common
substrate to good and evil itself.
of Elea cast his philosophy against those who
held "it is and is not the same, and all things travel
in opposite directions,"—presumably referring to
Heraclitus and those who followed him.
Whereas the doctrines of the Milesian school, in
suggesting that the substratum could appear in a
variety of different guises, implied that everything
that exists is corpuscular, Parmenides argued that the
first principle of being was One, indivisible, and
Being, he argued, by definition implies eternality,
while only that which is can be thought; a
thing which is, moreover, cannot be more or
less, and so the rarefaction and condensation of the
Milesians is impossible regarding Being; lastly, as
movement requires that something exist apart from the
thing moving (viz. the space into which it moves), the
One or Being cannot move, since this would require
that "space" both exist and not exist.
While this doctrine is at odds with ordinary sensory
experience, where things do indeed change and move,
the Eleatic school followed Parmenides in denying that
sense phenomena revealed the world as it actually was;
instead, the only thing with Being was thought, or the
question of whether something exists or not is one of
whether it can be thought.
support of this, Parmenides' pupil Zeno of Elea attempted to
prove that the concept of motion was absurd and
as such motion did not exist. He also attacked the
subsequent development of pluralism, arguing that it
was incompatible with Being.
His arguments are known as Zeno's paradoxes.
of Parmenides' logic was such that some subsequent
philosophers abandoned the monism of the Milesians,
Xenophanes, Heraclitus, and Parmenides, where one
thing was the arche, and adopted pluralism, such
as Empedocles and Anaxagoras.
There were, they said, multiple elements which were
not reducible to one another and these were set in
motion by love and strife (as in Empedocles) or by
Mind (as in Anaxagoras). Agreeing with Parmenides that
there is no coming into being or passing away, genesis
or decay, they said that things appear to come into
being and pass away because the elements out of which
they are composed assemble or disassemble while
themselves being unchanging.
Leucippus also proposed an
ontological pluralism with a cosmogony based on two
main elements: the vacuum and atoms. These, by means
of their inherent movement, are crossing the void and
creating the real material bodies. His theories were
not well known by the time of Plato, however, and they were
ultimately incorporated into the work of his student,
arose from the juxtaposition of physis (nature) and nomos
(law). John Burnet posits its origin in the scientific
progress of the previous centuries which suggested
that Being was radically different from what was
experienced by the senses and, if comprehensible at
all, was not comprehensible in terms of order; the
world in which men lived, on the other hand, was one
of law and order, albeit of humankind's own making.
At the same time, nature was constant, while what was
by law differed from one place to another and could be
man to call himself a sophist, according to Plato, was
Protagoras, whom he presents
as teaching that all virtue is conventional. It was
Protagoras who claimed that "man is the measure of all
things, of the things that are, that they are, and of
the things that are not, that they are not," which
Plato interprets as a radical perspectivism, where some
things seem to be one way for one person (and so
actually are that way) and another way for another
person (and so actually are that way as well);
the conclusion being that one cannot look to nature
for guidance regarding how to live one's life.
and subsequent sophists tended to teach rhetoric as
their primary vocation. Prodicus, Gorgias, Hippias, and Thrasymachus appear in
sometimes explicitly teaching that while nature
provides no ethical guidance, the guidance that the
laws provide is worthless, or that nature favors those
who act against the laws.
born in Athens in the 5th
century BCE, marks a watershed in ancient Greek
philosophy. Athens was a center of learning, with
sophists and philosophers traveling from across Greece
to teach rhetoric, astronomy, cosmology, geometry, and
the like. The great statesman Pericles was closely associated
with this new learning and a friend of Anaxagoras, however, and his
political opponents struck at him by taking advantage
of a conservative reaction against the philosophers;
it became a crime to investigate the things above the
heavens or below the earth, subjects considered
impious. Anaxagoras is said to have been charged and
to have fled into exile when Socrates was about twenty
years of age.
There is a story that Protagoras, too, was forced
to flee and that the Athenians burned his books.
Socrates, however, is the only subject recorded as
charged under this law, convicted, and sentenced to
death in 399 BCE (see Trial of Socrates). In
the version of his defense speech presented
by Plato, he claims that it is the envy he arouses on
account of his being a philosopher that will convict
philosophy was an established pursuit prior to
Socrates, Cicero credits him as "the first
who brought philosophy down from the heavens, placed
it in cities, introduced it into families, and obliged
it to examine into life and morals, and good and
By this account he would be considered the founder of
The reasons for this turn toward political and ethical
subjects remain the object of much study.
that many conversations involving Socrates (as
recounted by Plato and Xenophon) end without having
reached a firm conclusion, or aporetically,
has stimulated debate over the meaning of the Socratic method.
Socrates is said to have pursued this probing
question-and-answer style of examination on a number
of topics, usually attempting to arrive at a
defensible and attractive definition of a virtue.
Socrates' recorded conversations rarely provide a
definite answer to the question under examination,
several maxims or paradoxes for which he has become
known recur. Socrates taught that no one desires what
is bad, and so if anyone does something that truly is
bad, it must be unwillingly or out of ignorance;
consequently, all virtue is knowledge.
He frequently remarks on his own ignorance (claiming
that he does not know what courage is, for example). Plato presents him as
distinguishing himself from the common run of mankind
by the fact that, while they know nothing noble and
good, they do not know that they do not know,
whereas Socrates knows and acknowledges that he knows
nothing noble and good.
subsequent philosophical movements were inspired by
Socrates or his younger associates. Plato casts
Socrates as the main interlocutor in his dialogues, deriving from them the
basis of Platonism (and by extension, Neoplatonism). Plato's
student Aristotle in turn criticized
and built upon the doctrines he ascribed to Socrates
and Plato, forming the foundation of Aristotelianism. Antisthenes founded the
school that would come to be known as Cynicism and
accused Plato of distorting Socrates' teachings. Zeno of Citium in turn
adapted the ethics of Cynicism to articulate Stoicism. Epicurus studied with Platonic
and Stoic teachers before renouncing all previous
philosophers (including Democritus, on whose atomism
philosophy relies). The philosophic movements that
were to dominate the intellectual life of the Roman
empire were thus born in this febrile period
following Socrates' activity, and either directly or
indirectly influenced by him. They were also absorbed
by the expanding Muslim world in the 7th through 10th
centuries CE, from which they returned to the West as
foundations of Medieval philosophy
and the Renaissance, as discussed
an Athenian of the
generation after Socrates. Ancient tradition
ascribes thirty-six dialogues and thirteen letters to him,
although of these only twenty-four of the dialogues
are now universally recognized as authentic; most
modern scholars believe that at least twenty-eight
dialogues and two of the letters were in fact written
by Plato, although all of the thirty-six dialogues
have some defenders.
A further nine dialogues are ascribed to Plato but
were considered spurious even in antiquity.
dialogues feature Socrates, although not always as the
leader of the conversation. (One dialogue, the Laws,
instead contains an "Athenian Stranger.") Along with Xenophon, Plato is the primary
source of information about Socrates' life and beliefs
and it is not always easy to distinguish between the
two. While the Socrates presented in the dialogues is
often taken to be Plato's mouthpiece, Socrates'
reputation for irony, his caginess regarding his
own opinions in the dialogues, and his occasional
absence from or minor role in the conversation serve
to conceal Plato's doctrines.
Much of what is said about his doctrines is derived
from what Aristotle reports about them.
political doctrine ascribed to Plato is derived from
the Laws, and the Statesman.
The first of these contains the suggestion that there
will not be justice in cities unless they are ruled by
those responsible for enforcing the laws are compelled
to hold their women, children, and property in common; and the individual is
taught to pursue the common good through noble lies; the Republic
says that such a city is likely impossible, however,
generally assuming that philosophers would refuse to
rule and the people would refuse to compel them to do
the Republic is premised on a distinction
between the sort of knowledge possessed by the
philosopher and that possessed by the king or
political man, Socrates explores only the character of
the philosopher; in the Statesman, on the
other hand, a participant referred to as the Eleatic
Stranger discusses the sort of knowledge possessed by
the political man, while Socrates listens quietly.
Although rule by a wise man would be preferable to
rule by law, the wise cannot help but be judged by the
unwise, and so in practice, rule by law is deemed
Republic and the Statesman reveal the
limitations of politics, raising the question of what
political order would be best given those constraints;
that question is addressed in the Laws, a
dialogue that does not take place in Athens and from
which Socrates is absent.
The character of the society described there is
eminently conservative, a corrected or liberalized timocracy on the Spartan or Cretan model or that of
dialogues also have metaphysical themes, the
most famous of which is his theory
of forms. It holds that non-material abstract
(but substantial) forms (or ideas), and
not the material world of change known to us through
our physical senses, possess the highest and most
fundamental kind of reality.
often uses long-form analogies
to explain his ideas; the most famous is perhaps the Allegory of the Cave.
It likens most humans to people tied up in a cave, who
look only at shadows on the walls and have no other
conception of reality.
If they turned around, they would see what is casting
the shadows (and thereby gain a further dimension to
their reality). If some left the cave, they would see
the outside world illuminated by the sun (representing
the ultimate form of goodness and truth). If these
travelers then re-entered the cave, the people inside
(who are still only familiar with the shadows) would
not be equipped to believe reports of this 'outside
This story explains the theory of forms with their
different levels of reality, and advances the view
that philosopher-kings are wisest while most humans
One student of Plato (who would become another of the
most influential philosophers of all time) stressed
the implication that understanding relies upon
moved to Athens from his native Stageira in
367 BCE and began to study philosophy (perhaps even
rhetoric, under Isocrates), eventually
enrolling at Plato's Academy.
He left Athens approximately twenty years later to
study botany and zoology, became a tutor of Alexander the Great,
and ultimately returned to Athens a decade later to
establish his own school: the Lyceum.
At least twenty-nine of his treatises have survived,
known as the corpus Aristotelicum,
and address a variety of subjects including logic, physics, optics, metaphysics, ethics, rhetoric, politics, poetry, botany, and zoology.
is often portrayed as disagreeing with his teacher
Plato (e.g., in Raphael's School
of Athens). He criticizes the regimes described in Plato's Republic and Laws,
and refers to the theory
of forms as "empty words and poetic metaphors."
He is generally presented as giving greater weight to
empirical observation and practical concerns.
fame was not great during the Hellenistic period,
when Stoic logic was in vogue, but
commentators popularized his work, which eventually
contributed heavily to Islamic, Jewish, and medieval
His influence was such that Avicenna referred to him simply
as "the Master"; Maimonides, Alfarabi, Averroes, and Aquinas as
The philosopher Pyrrho from Elis, in an anecdote taken from
(upper) PIRRHO • HELIENSIS •
PLISTARCHI • FILIVS
translation (from Latin): Phyrrho . Greek .
Son of Plistarchus
(middle) OPORTERE • SAPIENTEM
HANC ILLIVS IMITARI
SECVRITATEM translation (from Latin): It is
right wisdom then that all imitate this
security (Phyrrho pointing at a peaceful pig
munching his food)
(lower) Whoever wants to apply
the real wisdom, shall not mind trepidation
the Hellenistic and Roman periods, many
different schools of thought developed in the Hellenistic
world and then the Greco-Roman
world. There were Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Syrians and Arabs who
contributed to the development of Hellenistic
philosophy. Elements of Persian philosophy
and Indian philosophy also
had an influence. The most notable schools of
Hellenistic philosophy were:
- Neoplatonism: Plotinus (Egyptian), Ammonius Saccas, Porphyry
(Syrian), Zethos (Arab), Iamblichus
Skepticism: Arcesilaus, Carneades, Cicero (Roman)
- Pyrrhonian Skepticism: Pyrrho, Sextus Empiricus
- Cynicism: Antisthenes, Diogenes of Sinope,
Crates of Thebes
(taught Zeno of Citium, founder of Stoicism)
- Stoicism: Zeno of Citium, Cleanthes, Chrysippus, Crates of Mallus
(brought Stoicism to Rome c. 170 BCE), Panaetius, Posidonius, Seneca (Roman), Epictetus (Greek/Roman), Marcus Aurelius (Roman)
- Epicureanism: Epicurus (Greek) and Lucretius (Roman)
- Eclecticism: Cicero (Roman)
spread of Christianity throughout the
Roman world, followed by the spread of Islam, ushered
in the end of Hellenistic philosophy and the
beginnings of Medieval philosophy,
which was dominated by the three Abrahamic
traditions: Jewish philosophy, Christian philosophy,
and early Islamic
of Greek philosophy under Islam
the Middle Ages, Greek ideas
were largely forgotten in Western Europe (where,
between the fall of
Rome and the East-West
Schism, literacy in Greek had declined
sharply). Not long after the first major expansion of
Islam, however, the Abbasid caliphs
authorized the gathering of Greek manuscripts and
hired translators to increase their prestige. Islamic philosophers
such as Al-Kindi (Alkindus), Al-Farabi (Alpharabius), Ibn
Sina (Avicenna) and Ibn Rushd (Averroes) reinterpreted these
works, and during the High Middle Ages Greek
philosophy re-entered the West through translations
from Arabic to Latin. The re-introduction of
these philosophies, accompanied by the new Arabic
commentaries, had a great influence on Medieval philosophers
such as Thomas Aquinas.
North Whitehead, Process and Reality, Part
II, Chap. I, Sect. I
- Griffin, Jasper; Boardman,
John; Murray, Oswyn (2001). The Oxford
history of Greece and the Hellenistic world.
Oxford [Oxfordshire]: Oxford University Press.
p. 140. ISBN0-19-280137-6.
Whitlock, preface to The Pre-Platonic
Philosophers, by Friedrich Nietzsche
(Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001),
- Greg Whitlock, preface to The
Pre-Platonic Philosophers, by Friedrich
Nietzsche (Urbana: University of Illinois Press,
Burnet, Greek Philosophy: Thales to Plato,
3rd ed. (London: A & C Black Ltd., 1920),
version from Internet Archive
- Aristotle, Metaphysics
Metaphysics Alpha, 983 b6 8–11.
- Burnet, Greek
Philosophy, 3–4, 18.
- Burnet, Greek
Philosophy, 18–20; Herodotus, Histories,
Greek Philosophy, 22–24.
Greek Philosophy, 21.
Greek Philosophy, 27.
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Greek Philosophy, 35; Diels-Kranz, Die
Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, Xenophanes frr.
Greek Philosophy, 36.
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Greek Philosophy, 37–38.
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Greek Philosophy, 69.
Greek Philosophy, 70.
Greek Philosophy, 94.
Greek Philosophy, 105–10.
Greek Philosophy, 113–17.
Nails, The People of Plato (Indianapolis:
Hackett, 2002), 24.
People of Plato, 256.
- Marcus Tullius Cicero, Tusculan Disputations,
V 10–11 (or V IV).
Strauss, Natural Right and History
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953), 120.
Benardete, The Argument of the Action
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000),
Lampert, How Philosophy Became Socratic
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010).
336c & 337a, Theaetetus
150c, Apology of Socrates
23a; Xenophon, Memorabilia
4.4.9; Aristotle, Sophistical
- W. K. C. Guthrie, The
Greek Philosophers (London: Methuen, 1950),
- Terence Irwin, The
Development of Ethics, vol. 1 (Oxford:
Oxford University Press 2007), 14
Santas, "The Socratic Paradoxes", Philosophical
Review 73 (1964): 147–64, 147.
- Apology of Socrates
M. Cooper, ed., Complete Works, by Plato
(Indianapolis: Hackett, 1997), v–vi, viii–xii,
ed., Complete Works, by Plato, v–vi,
- Leo Strauss, The
City and Man (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1964), 50–51.
- Leo Strauss, "Plato", in History
of Political Philosophy, ed. Leo Strauss and
Joseph Cropsey, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press 1987): 33–89.
- Allegory of the cave" (PDF). classicalastrologer.files.wordpress.com.
of the Cave". washington.edu.
- Garth Kemerling. "Plato:
The Republic 5-10". philosophypages.com.
- Carnes Lord, Introduction
to The Politics, by Aristotle (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1984): 1–29.
- Bertrand Russell, A
History of Western Philosophy (New York:
Simon & Schuster, 1972).
bk. 2, ch. 1–6.
Stsmgotd Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Nikolaos (2005). Handbook of Greek Philosophy:
From Thales to the Stoics Analysis and Fragments,
Trafford Publishing ISBN
Greek Philosophy, 1930.
Keith Chambers Guthrie, A History of Greek
Philosophy: Volume 1, The Earlier Presocratics
and the Pythagoreans, 1962.
- Kierkegaard, Søren,
On the Concept of Irony
with Continual Reference to Socrates,
- Martin Litchfield
West, Early Greek Philosophy and the
Orient, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1971.
Litchfield West, The East Face of Helicon:
West Asiatic Elements in Greek Poetry and Myth,
Oxford [England] ; New York: Clarendon Press,
- Charles Freeman (1996). Egypt,
Greece and Rome. Oxford University Press.
Long. Hellenistic Philosophy. University
of California, 1992. (2nd Ed.)
Rodziewicz, IDEA AND FORM. ΙΔΕΑ ΚΑΙ ΕΙΔΟΣ. On
the Foundations of the Philosophy of Plato and
the Presocratics (IDEA I FORMA. ΙΔΕΑ ΚΑΙ ΕΙΔΟΣ.
O fundamentach filozofii Platona i
presokratyków) Wroclaw, 2012.
- Baird, Forrest E.; Walter
Kaufmann (2008). From Plato to Derrida.
Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Prentice
Hall. ISBN 0-13-158591-6.
Andrea Wilson, Spectacles
of Truth in Classical Greek Philosophy:
Theoria in Its Cultural Context,
Cambridge University Press, 2004. ISBN
- Loudovikos, Nikolaos,
Protopresbyter, Theological History of the
Ancient Hellenic Philosophy – Presocratics,
Socrates, Plato (in Greek), Pournaras
Publishing, Athens, 2003, ISBN
Hemlock Cup: Socrates, Athens and the Search for
the Good Life, by Bettany Hughes (2010) ISBN
James, Early Greek Thought: Before the Dawn,
in series, Bloomsbury Studies in Ancient
Philosophy, Bloomsbury Publishing, London,
Sōkrátēs; 470/469 – 399 BC)
was a classical Greek (Athenian) philosopher credited as one of
the founders of Western philosophy. He
is an enigmatic figure known chiefly through the
accounts of classical writers, especially the writings
of his students Plato and Xenophon and the plays of his
contemporary Aristophanes. Plato's dialogues are among the most
comprehensive accounts of Socrates to survive from
antiquity, though it is unclear the degree to which
Socrates himself is "hidden behind his 'best disciple',
his portrayal in Plato's dialogues, Socrates has
become renowned for his contribution to the field of ethics, and it is this Platonic
Socrates who lends his name to the concepts of Socratic irony and the Socratic method, or elenchus.
The latter remains a commonly used tool in a wide
range of discussions, and is a type of pedagogy in which a series of
questions is asked not only to draw individual
answers, but also to encourage fundamental insight
into the issue at hand. Plato's Socrates also made
important and lasting contributions to the field of epistemology, and his
ideologies and approach have proven a strong
foundation for much Western philosophy that has
written by Socrates remains extant. As a result, all
first-hand information about him and his philosophies
depends upon secondary sources. Furthermore, close
comparison between the contents of these sources reveals
contradictions, thus creating concerns about the possibility
of knowing in-depth the real Socrates. This issue is
known as the Socratic problem,
or the Socratic question.
understand Socrates and his thought, one must turn
primarily to the works of Plato, whose dialogues are thought
the most informative source about Socrates' life and
and also Xenophon.
These writings are the Sokratikoi logoi, or Socratic dialogues,
which consist of reports of conversations apparently
discovering the real-life Socrates, the difficulty is
that ancient sources are mostly philosophical or
dramatic texts, apart from Xenophon. There are no
straightforward histories, contemporary with Socrates,
that dealt with his own time and place. A corollary of
this is that sources that do mention Socrates do not
necessarily claim to be historically accurate, and are
often partisan. For instance, those who prosecuted and
convicted Socrates have left no testament. Historians
therefore face the challenge of reconciling the various
evidence from the extant texts in order to attempt an
accurate and consistent account of Socrates' life and
work. The result of such an effort is not necessarily
realistic, even if consistent.
the disagreement resulting from differences within
sources, two factors emerge from all sources pertaining
to Socrates. It would seem, therefore, that he was ugly,
and that Socrates had a brilliant intellect.
as a figure
character of Socrates as exhibited in Apology, Crito, Phaedo and Symposium concurs
with other sources to an extent to which it seems
possible to rely on the Platonic Socrates, as
demonstrated in the dialogues, as a representation of
the actual Socrates as he lived in history.
At the same time, however, many scholars believe that in
some works, Plato, being a literary artist, pushed his
avowedly brightened-up version of "Socrates" far beyond
anything the historical Socrates was likely to have done
or said. Also, Xenophon, being an historian, is a more
reliable witness to the historical Socrates. It is a
matter of much debate over which Socrates it is whom
Plato is describing at any given point—the historical
figure, or Plato's fictionalization. As British
philosopher Martin Cohen
has put it, "Plato, the idealist, offers an idol, a
master figure, for philosophy. A Saint, a prophet of
'the Sun-God', a teacher condemned for his teachings as
It is also
clear from other writings and historical artefacts, that
Socrates was not simply a character, nor an invention,
of Plato. The testimony of Xenophon and Aristotle,
alongside some of Aristophanes' work (especially The Clouds), is useful in
fleshing out a perception of Socrates beyond Plato's
as a philosopher
with discerning Socrates' philosophical views stems from
the perception of contradictions in statements made by
the Socrates in the different dialogues of
Plato. These contradictions produce doubt as to the
actual philosophical doctrines of Socrates, within his
milieu and as recorded by other individuals.
Aristotle, in his Magna Moralia, refers to
Socrates in words which make it patent that the doctrine
virtue is knowledge was held by Socrates. Within
the Metaphysics, he states Socrates was occupied
with the search for moral virtues, being the ' first
to search for universal definitions for them '.
of understanding Socrates as a philosopher is shown in
the following: In Xenophon's Symposium,
Socrates is reported as saying he devotes himself only
to what he regards as the most important art or
occupation, that of discussing philosophy. However, in The
Clouds, Aristophanes portrays Socrates as
accepting payment for teaching and running a sophist school with Chaerephon. Also, in Plato's Apology and Symposium, as well
as in Xenophon's accounts, Socrates explicitly denies
accepting payment for teaching. More specifically, in
the Apology, Socrates cites his poverty as proof
that he is not a teacher.
fragments are extant of the writings by Timon of Phlius pertaining
although Timon is known to have written to ridicule and
Carnelian gem imprint
representing Socrates, Rome, 1st century BC-1st
about the life of Socrates can be derived from three
contemporary sources: the dialogues of Plato and Xenophon
(both devotees of Socrates), and the plays of Aristophanes. He has been
depicted by some scholars, including Eric
Havelock and Walter Ong,
as a champion of oral modes of communication,
standing against the haphazard diffusion of writing.
Aristophanes' play The Clouds, Socrates is
made into a clown of sorts, particularly inclined toward
who teaches his students how to bamboozle their way out
of debt. However, since most of Aristophanes' works
function as parodies, it is presumed that his
characterization in this play was also not literal.
was born in Alopeke, and belonged to the tribe Antiochis. His
father was Sophroniscus, a sculptor, or
His mother was a midwife named Phaenarete.
Socrates married Xanthippe, who is especially
remembered for having an undesirable temperament.
She bore for him three sons,
Lamprocles, Sophroniscus and Menexenus. His friend Crito of Alopece
criticized him for abandoning them when he refused to
try to escape before his execution.
first worked as a stonemason, and there was a tradition
in antiquity, not credited by modern scholarship, that
Socrates crafted the statues of the Three Graces, which
stood near the Acropolis until the 2nd century AD.
reports that because youths were not allowed to enter
the Agora, they used to gather in
workshops surrounding it.
Socrates frequented these shops in order to converse
with the merchants. Most notable among them was Simon the Shoemaker.
For a time,
Socrates fulfilled the role of hoplite, participating in the Peloponnesian
war—a conflict which stretched intermittently over
a period spanning 431 to 404 B.C.
Several of Plato's dialogues refer to Socrates' military
monologue of the Apology, Socrates states he was
active for Athens in the battles of Amphipolis, Delium, and Potidaea.
In the Symposium, Alcibiades describes Socrates'
valour in the battles of Potidaea and Delium, recounting
how Socrates saved his life in the former battle
(219e-221b). Socrates' exceptional service at Delium is
also mentioned in the Laches by the
General after whom the dialogue is named (181b). In the
Apology, Socrates compares his military service
to his courtroom troubles, and says anyone on the jury
who thinks he ought to retreat from philosophy must also
think soldiers should retreat when it seems likely that
they will be killed in battle.
at the trial of the six commanders
he participated as a member of the Boule.
His tribe the Antiochis held the Prytany on the
day it was debated what fate should befall the generals
of the Battle of Arginusae,
who abandoned the slain and the survivors of foundered
ships to pursue the defeated Spartan navy.
to Xenophon, Socrates was the Epistates for the debate,
but Delebecque and Hatzfeld think this is an
embellishment, because Xenophon composed the information
after Socrates' death 
generals were seen by some to have failed to uphold the
most basic of duties, and the people decided upon
capital punishment. However, when the prytany responded
by refusing to vote on the issue, the people reacted
with threats of death directed at the prytany itself.
They relented, at which point Socrates alone as
epistates blocked the vote, which had been proposed by Callixeinus.
The reason he gave was that "in no case would he act
except in accordance with the law".
of the trial was ultimately judged to be a miscarriage
of justice, or illegal, but, actually, Socrates'
decision had no support from written statutory law,
instead being reliant on favouring a continuation of
less strict and less formal nomos law.
Plato's Apology, parts 32c to 32d,
describes how Socrates and four others were summoned to
and told by representatives of the oligarchy of the Thirty
(the oligarchy began ruling in 404 B.C.) to go to
Salamis, and from there, to return to them with Leon the Salaminian. He
was to be brought back to be subsequently executed.
However, Socrates returned home and did not go to
Salamis as he was expected to.
Trial and death
lived during the time of the transition from the height
of the Athenian hegemony to its decline with the
defeat by Sparta and its allies in the Peloponnesian War. At a
time when Athens sought to
stabilize and recover from its humiliating defeat, the
Athenian public may have been entertaining doubts about
democracy as an efficient form of government. Socrates
appears to have been a critic of democracy,
and some scholars interpret his trial as an expression
of political infighting.
loyalty to his city, Socrates clashed with the current
course of Athenian politics and society.
He praises Sparta, archrival to Athens, directly and
indirectly in various dialogues. One of Socrates'
purported offenses to the city was his position as a
social and moral critic. Rather than upholding a status
quo and accepting the development of what he perceived
as immorality within his region, Socrates questioned the
collective notion of "might makes right" that he felt
was common in Greece during this period. Plato refers to
Socrates as the "gadfly" of the state (as the
gadfly stings the horse into action, so Socrates stung
various Athenians), insofar as he irritated some people
with considerations of justice and the pursuit of
His attempts to improve the Athenians' sense of justice
may have been the cause of his execution.
to Plato's Apology, Socrates' life as the
"gadfly" of Athens began when his friend Chaerephon
asked the oracle at Delphi if anyone were
wiser than Socrates; the Oracle responded that no-one was
wiser. Socrates believed the Oracle's response was a
paradox, because he believed he possessed no wisdom
whatsoever. He proceeded to test the riddle by
approaching men considered wise by the people of
Athens—statesmen, poets, and artisans—in order to refute
the Oracle's pronouncement. Questioning them, however,
Socrates concluded: while each man thought he knew a
great deal and was wise, in fact they knew very little
and were not wise at all. Socrates realized the Oracle
was correct; while so-called wise men thought themselves
wise and yet were not, he himself knew he was not wise
at all, which, paradoxically, made him the wiser one
since he was the only person aware of his own ignorance.
Socrates' paradoxical wisdom made the prominent
Athenians he publicly questioned look foolish, turning
them against him and leading to accusations of
wrongdoing. Socrates defended his role as a gadfly until
the end: at his trial, when Socrates was asked to
propose his own punishment, he suggested a wage paid by
the government and free dinners for the rest of his life
instead, to finance the time he spent as Athens'
He was, nevertheless, found guilty of both corrupting
the minds of the youth of Athens and of impiety ("not believing in the
gods of the state"),
and subsequently sentenced to death by drinking a
mixture containing poison hemlock.
and Plato agree that Socrates had an opportunity to
escape, as his followers were able to bribe the prison
guards. There have been several suggestions offered as
reasons why he chose to stay:
believed such a flight would indicate a fear of death,
which he believed no true philosopher has.
- If he
fled Athens his teaching would fare no better in
another country, as he would continue questioning all
he met and undoubtedly incur their displeasure.
knowingly agreed to live under the city's laws, he
implicitly subjected himself to the possibility of
being accused of crimes by its citizens and judged
guilty by its jury. To do otherwise would have caused
him to break his "social contract" with
the state, and so harm the state, an unprincipled act.
- If he
escaped at the instigation of his friends, then his
friends would become liable in law.
reasoning behind his refusal to flee is the main subject
of the Crito.
death is described at the end of Plato's Phaedo. Socrates turned down
Crito's pleas to attempt an escape from prison. After
drinking the poison, he was instructed to walk around
until his legs felt numb. After he lay down, the man who
administered the poison pinched his foot; Socrates could
no longer feel his legs. The numbness slowly crept up
his body until it reached his heart. Shortly before his
death, Socrates speaks his last words to Crito: "Crito,
we owe a rooster to Asclepius. Please, don't forget
to pay the debt."
was the Greek god for curing illness, and it is likely
Socrates' last words meant that death is the cure—and
freedom, of the soul from the body. Additionally, in Why
Socrates Died: Dispelling the Myths, Robin
Waterfield adds another interpretation of Socrates' last
words. He suggests that Socrates was a voluntary
scapegoat; his death was the purifying remedy for
Athens' misfortunes. In this view, the token of
appreciation for Asclepius would represent a cure for
most important contribution to Western thought is his dialectic method of inquiry,
known as the Socratic method or method of "elenchus",
which he largely applied to the examination of key moral
concepts such as the Good and Justice. It was first described by
Plato in the Socratic Dialogues. To solve a
problem, it would be broken down into a series of
questions, the answers to which gradually distill the
answer a person would seek. The influence of this
approach is most strongly felt today in the use of the scientific method, in
which hypothesis is the first stage.
The development and practice of this method is one of
Socrates' most enduring contributions, and is a key
factor in earning his mantle as the father of political philosophy,
ethics or moral philosophy, and as
a figurehead of all the central themes in Western philosophy.
illustrate the use of the Socratic method, a series of questions are posed to help a
person or group to determine their underlying beliefs and the extent of their
knowledge. The Socratic method is a negative
method of hypothesis elimination, in that
better hypotheses are found by steadily identifying and
eliminating those that lead to contradictions. It was
designed to force one to examine one's own beliefs and
the validity of such beliefs.
alternative interpretation of the dialectic is that it
is a method for direct perception of the Form of the
Good. Philosopher Karl Popper describes the
dialectic as "the art of intellectual intuition, of
visualising the divine originals, the Forms or Ideas, of
unveiling the Great Mystery behind the common man's
everyday world of appearances."
In a similar vein, French philosopher Pierre Hadot suggests that
the dialogues are a type of spiritual exercise. Hadot
writes that "in Plato's view, every dialectical
exercise, precisely because it is an exercise of pure
thought, subject to the demands of the Logos, turns the soul away from the
sensible world, and allows it to convert itself towards
of Socrates, as distinct from those of Plato, are
difficult to discern. Little in the way of concrete
evidence exists to demarcate the two. The lengthy
presentation of ideas given in most of the dialogues may
be the ideas of Socrates himself, but which have been
subsequently deformed or changed by Plato, and some
scholars think Plato so adapted the Socratic style as to
make the literary character and the philosopher himself
impossible to distinguish. Others argue that he did have
his own theories and beliefs.
There is a degree of controversy inherent in the
identifying of what these might have been, owing to the
difficulty of separating Socrates from Plato and the
difficulty of interpreting even the dramatic writings
concerning Socrates. Consequently, distinguishing the
philosophical beliefs of Socrates from those of Plato
and Xenophon has not proven easy, so it must be
remembered that what is attributed to Socrates might
actually be more the specific concerns of these two
is complicated because the historical Socrates seems to
have been notorious for asking questions but not
answering, claiming to lack wisdom concerning the
subjects about which he questioned others.
in general can be said about the philosophical beliefs
of Socrates, it is that he was morally, intellectually,
and politically at odds with many of his fellow
Athenians. When he is on trial for heresy and corrupting
the minds of the youth of Athens, he uses his method of
elenchos to demonstrate to the jurors that their
moral values are wrong-headed. He tells them they are
concerned with their families, careers, and political
responsibilities when they ought to be worried about the
"welfare of their souls". Socrates' assertion that the
gods had singled him out as a divine emissary seemed to
provoke irritation, if not outright ridicule. Socrates
also questioned the Sophistic doctrine that arete
(virtue) can be taught. He liked to observe that
successful fathers (such as the prominent military
general Pericles) did not produce sons of
their own quality. Socrates argued that moral excellence
was more a matter of divine bequest than parental
nurture. This belief may have contributed to his lack of
anxiety about the future of his own sons.
according to A. A. Long, "There should be no doubt that,
despite his claim to know only that he knew nothing,
Socrates had strong beliefs about the divine", and,
citing Xenophon's Memorabilia, 1.4, 4.3,:
to Xenophon, he was a teleologist who held that god
arranges everything for the best.
frequently says his ideas are not his own, but his
teachers'. He mentions several influences: Prodicus the rhetor and Anaxagoras the philosopher.
Perhaps surprisingly, Socrates claims to have been
deeply influenced by two women besides his mother: he
says that Diotima (c.f. Plato's
witch and priestess from Mantinea,
taught him all he knows about eros,
or love; and that Aspasia, the mistress of Pericles, taught him the art of
argued that his principal teacher was the Anaxagorean Archelaus but his
ideas were as Plato described them; Eric A. Havelock, on the
other hand, considered Socrates' association with the
Anaxagoreans to be evidence of Plato's philosophical
separation from Socrates.
Many of the
beliefs traditionally attributed to the historical
Socrates have been characterized as "paradoxical"
because they seem to conflict with common sense. The
following are among the so-called Socratic paradoxes:
- No one
- No one
errs or does wrong willingly or knowingly.
is sufficient for happiness.
The term, "Socratic
paradox" can also refer to a self-referential paradox, originating in Socrates'
utterance, "what I do not know I do not think I know",
often paraphrased as "I know that I know
statement "I know that I know
nothing" is often attributed to Socrates, based on
a statement in Plato's Apology.
The conventional interpretation of this is that
Socrates' wisdom was limited to an awareness of his own
ignorance. Socrates considered virtuousness to require
or consist of phronēsis, "thought,
sense, judgement, practical wisdom, [and] prudence."
Therefore, he believed that wrongdoing and behaviour
that was not virtuous resulted from ignorance, and that
those who did wrong knew no better.
thing Socrates claimed to have knowledge of was "the art
of love" (ta erôtikê). This assertion seems to be
associated with the word erôtan, which means to
ask questions. Therefore, Socrates is claiming to know
about the art of love, insofar as he knows how to ask
time he actually claimed to be wise was within Apology,
in which he says he is wise "in the limited sense of
having human wisdom".
It is debatable whether Socrates believed humans (as
opposed to gods like Apollo) could actually become wise.
On the one hand, he drew a clear line between human
ignorance and ideal knowledge; on the other, Plato's Symposium
(Diotima's Speech) and Republic (Allegory of the
Cave) describe a method for ascending to wisdom.
Theaetetus (150a), Socrates compares his
treatment of the young people who come to him for
philosophical advice to the way midwives treat their
patients, and the way matrimonial matchmakers act. He
says that he himself is a true matchmaker (προμνηστικός
promnestikós) in that he matches the young man to
the best philosopher for his particular mind. However,
he carefully distinguishes himself from a panderer
(προᾰγωγός proagogos) or procurer. This
distinction is echoed in Xenophon's Symposium
(3.20), when Socrates jokes about his certainty of being
able to make a fortune, if he chose to practice the art
of pandering. For his part as a philosophical
interlocutor, he leads his respondent to a clearer
conception of wisdom, although he claims he is not
himself a teacher (Apology). His role, he claims,
is more properly to be understood as analogous to a midwife (μαῖα maia).
In the Theaetetus,
Socrates explains that he is himself barren of theories,
but knows how to bring the theories of others to birth
and determine whether they are worthy or mere "wind eggs" (ἀνεμιαῖον anemiaion).
Perhaps significantly, he points out that midwives are
barren due to age, and women who have never given birth
are unable to become midwives; they would have no
experience or knowledge of birth and would be unable to
separate the worthy infants from those that should be
left on the hillside to be exposed. To judge this, the
midwife must have experience and knowledge of what she
Bust of Socrates in the Palermo
believed the best way for people to live was to focus on
the pursuit of virtue rather than the pursuit, for
instance, of material wealth.
He always invited others to try to concentrate more on
friendships and a sense of true community, for Socrates
felt this was the best way for people to grow together
as a populace.
His actions lived up to this standard: in the end,
Socrates accepted his death sentence when most thought
he would simply leave Athens, as he felt he could not
run away from or go against the will of his community;
as mentioned above, his reputation for valor on the
battlefield was without reproach.
that there are certain virtues formed a common thread in
Socrates' teachings. These virtues represented the most
important qualities for a person to have, foremost of
which were the philosophical or intellectual virtues.
Socrates stressed that "the
unexamined life is not worth living [and] ethical
virtue is the only thing that matters."
argued that Socrates believed "ideals belong in a world
only the wise man can understand",
making the philosopher the only type of person suitable
to govern others. In Plato's dialogue the Republic,
Socrates openly objected to the democracy that ran Athens during
his adult life. It was not only Athenian democracy:
Socrates found short of ideal any government that did
not conform to his presentation of a perfect regime led
by philosophers, and Athenian government was far from
that. It is, however, possible that the Socrates of
Plato's Republic is colored by Plato's own
views. During the last years of Socrates' life, Athens
was in continual flux due to political upheaval.
Democracy was at last overthrown by a junta known as the Thirty Tyrants, led by
Plato's relative, Critias, who had once been a
student and friend of Socrates. The Tyrants ruled for
about a year before the Athenian democracy was
reinstated, at which point it declared an amnesty for all recent events.
opposition to democracy is often denied, and the
question is one of the biggest philosophical debates
when trying to determine exactly what Socrates believed.
The strongest argument of those who claim Socrates did
not actually believe in the idea of philosopher kings is
that the view is expressed no earlier than Plato's Republic,
which is widely considered one of Plato's "Middle"
dialogues and not representative of the historical
Socrates' views. Furthermore, according to Plato's Apology
of Socrates, an "early" dialogue, Socrates refused
to pursue conventional politics; he often stated he
could not look into other's matters or tell people how
to live their lives when he did not yet understand how
to live his own. He believed he was a philosopher
engaged in the pursuit of Truth, and did not claim to
know it fully. Socrates' acceptance of his death
sentence after his conviction can also be seen to
support this view. It is often claimed much of the
anti-democratic leanings are from Plato, who was never
able to overcome his disgust at what was done to his
teacher. In any case, it is clear Socrates thought the
rule of the Thirty Tyrants was also objectionable; when
called before them to assist in the arrest of a fellow
Athenian, Socrates refused and narrowly escaped death
before the Tyrants were overthrown. He did, however,
fulfill his duty to serve as Prytanis
when a trial of a group of Generals who presided over a
disastrous naval campaign were judged; even then, he
maintained an uncompromising attitude, being one of
those who refused to proceed in a manner not supported
by the laws, despite intense pressure.
Judging by his actions, he considered the rule of the
Thirty Tyrants less legitimate than the Democratic
Senate that sentenced him to death.
apparent respect for democracy is one of the themes
emphasized in the 2008 play Socrates
on Trial by Andrew David Irvine.
Irvine argues that it was because of his loyalty to
Athenian democracy that Socrates was willing to accept
the verdict of his fellow citizens. As Irvine puts it,
"During a time of war and great social and intellectual
upheaval, Socrates felt compelled to express his views
openly, regardless of the consequences. As a result, he
is remembered today, not only for his sharp wit and high
ethical standards, but also for his loyalty to the view
that in a democracy the best way for a man to serve
himself, his friends, and his city—even during times of
war—is by being loyal to, and by speaking publicly
about, the truth."
Dialogues of Plato, though Socrates sometimes seems to
support a mystical
side, discussing reincarnation and the mystery religions,
this is generally attributed to Plato.
Regardless, this view of Socrates cannot be dismissed
out of hand, as we cannot be sure of the differences
between the views of Plato and Socrates; in addition,
there seem to be some corollaries in the works of
Xenophon. In the culmination of the philosophic path as
discussed in Plato's Symposium, one comes to the
Sea of Beauty or to the
sight of "the beautiful itself" (211C); only then can
one become wise. (In the Symposium, Socrates
credits his speech on the philosophic path to his
teacher, the priestess Diotima, who is not
even sure if Socrates is capable of reaching the highest
mysteries.) In the Meno, he refers to the Eleusinian Mysteries,
telling Meno he would understand Socrates' answers
better if only he could stay for the initiations next
week. Further confusions result from the nature of these
sources, insofar as the Platonic Dialogues are arguably
the work of an artist-philosopher, whose meaning does
not volunteer itself to the passive reader nor again the
lifelong scholar. According to Olympiodorus the
Younger in his Life of Plato,
Plato himself "received instruction from the writers of
tragedy" before taking up the study of philosophy. His
works are, indeed, dialogues; Plato's choice of this,
the medium of Sophocles, Euripides, and the fictions of
theatre, may reflect the ever-interpretable nature of
his writings, as he has been called a "dramatist of
reason". What is more, the first word of nearly all
Plato's works is a significant term for that respective
dialogue, and is used with its many connotations in
mind. Finally, the Phaedrus and the Symposium
each allude to Socrates' coy delivery of philosophic
truths in conversation; the Socrates of the Phaedrus
goes so far as to demand such dissembling and mystery in
all writing. The covertness we often find in Plato,
appearing here and there couched in some enigmatic use
of symbol and/or irony, may be at odds with the
mysticism Plato's Socrates expounds in some other
dialogues. These indirect methods may fail to satisfy
most interesting facet of this is Socrates' reliance on
what the Greeks called his "daimōnic
sign", an averting (ἀποτρεπτικός apotreptikos)
inner voice Socrates heard only when he was about to
make a mistake. It was this sign that prevented
Socrates from entering into politics. In the Phaedrus,
we are told Socrates considered this to be a form of
"divine madness", the sort of insanity that is a gift from the
gods and gives us poetry, mysticism, love,
and even philosophy itself. Alternately,
the sign is often taken to be what we would call
"intuition"; however, Socrates' characterization of the
phenomenon as daimōnic may suggest that its
origin is divine, mysterious, and independent of his own
thoughts. Today, such a voice would be classified under
the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of
Mental Disorders as a command
prominently lampooned in Aristophanes' comedy The Clouds, produced when
Socrates was in his mid-forties; he said at his trial
(according to Plato) that the laughter of the theater was a
harder task to answer than the arguments of his
accusers. Søren Kierkegaard
believed this play was a more accurate representation of
Socrates than those of his students. In the play,
Socrates is ridiculed for his dirtiness, which is
associated with the Laconizing
fad; also in plays by Callias,
Eupolis, and Telecleides. Other comic poets
who lampooned Socrates include Mnesimachus
and Ameipsias. In all of these,
Socrates and the Sophists were criticized for "the
moral dangers inherent in contemporary thought and
Xenophon, and Aristotle are the main sources for the
historical Socrates; however, Xenophon and Plato were
students of Socrates, and they may idealize him;
however, they wrote the only continuous descriptions of
Socrates that have come down to us in their complete
form. Aristotle refers frequently, but in passing, to
Socrates in his writings. Almost all of Plato's works
center on Socrates. However, Plato's later works appear
to be more his own philosophy put into the mouth of his
Dialogues are a series of dialogues written by Plato and
Xenophon in the form of discussions between Socrates and
other persons of his time, or as discussions between
Socrates' followers over his concepts. Plato's Phaedo is an example of this
latter category. Although his Apology is a
monologue delivered by Socrates, it is usually grouped
with the Dialogues.
professes to be a record of the actual speech Socrates
delivered in his own defense at the trial. In the
Athenian jury system, an "apology" is composed of three
parts: a speech, followed by a counter-assessment, then
some final words. "Apology" is a transliteration, not a translation, of the Greek apologia,
meaning "defense"; in this sense it is not apologetic
according to our contemporary use of the term.
generally does not place his own ideas in the mouth of a
specific speaker; he lets ideas emerge via the Socratic
Method, under the guidance of Socrates. Most of
the dialogues present Socrates applying this method to
some extent, but nowhere as completely as in the Euthyphro. In this
dialogue, Socrates and Euthyphro go through
several iterations of refining the answer to Socrates'
question, "...What is the pious, and what the impious?"
Dialogues, learning appears as a process of remembering.
The soul, before its incarnation in the
body, was in the realm of Ideas
(very similar to the Platonic "Forms"). There, it saw
things the way they truly are, rather than the pale
shadows or copies we experience on earth. By a process
of questioning, the soul can be brought to remember the
ideas in their pure form, thus bringing wisdom.
for Plato's writings referring to Socrates, it is not
always clear which ideas brought forward by Socrates (or
his friends) actually belonged to Socrates and which of
these may have been new additions or elaborations by
Plato – this is known as the Socratic
Problem. Generally, the early works of Plato are
considered to be close to the spirit of Socrates,
whereas the later works – including Phaedo and Republic –
are considered to be possibly products of Plato's
the students of Socrates set to work both on exercising
their perceptions of his teachings in politics and also
on developing many new philosophical schools of thought.
Some of Athens' controversial and anti-democratic tyrants were contemporary or
posthumous students of Socrates including Alcibiades and Critias. Critias' cousin Plato
would go on to found the Academy in 385 BC, which gained so
much renown that "Academy" became the standard word for
educational institutions in later European languages
such as English, French, and Italian.
Plato's protege, another important figure of the
Classical era, Aristotle went on to tutor Alexander the Great
and also to found his own school in 335 BC—the Lyceum—whose name also now means an
"Socrates dealt with moral matters and took no notice at
all of nature in general",
in his Dialogues, Plato would emphasize mathematics with
metaphysical overtones mirroring that of Pythagoras – the former
who would dominate Western thought well into the Renaissance. Aristotle himself
was as much of a philosopher as he was a scientist with
extensive work in the fields of biology and physics.
thought which challenged conventions, especially in
stressing a simplistic way of living, became divorced
from Plato's more detached and philosophical pursuits.
This idea was inherited by one of Socrates' older
students, Antisthenes, who became the
originator of another philosophy in the years after
Socrates' death: Cynicism. The idea
of asceticism being hand in hand
with an ethical life or one with piety, ignored by Plato
and Aristotle and somewhat dealt with by the Cynics,
formed the core of another philosophy in 281 BC – Stoicism when Zeno of Citium would
discover Socrates' works and then learn from Crates, a Cynic
of the later contributions of Socrates to Hellenistic
Era culture and philosophy as well as the Roman Era
have been lost to time, his teachings began a resurgence
in both medieval Europe and the Islamic
Middle East alongside those of Aristotle and
Stoicism. Socrates is mentioned in the dialogue Kuzari by Jewish philosopher and
Halevi in which a Jew instructs the Khazar king
Al-Kindi, a well-known Arabic
philosopher, introduced and tried to reconcile Socrates
and Hellenistic philosophy to an Islamic audience,
referring to him by the name 'Suqrat'.
stature in Western philosophy returned in full force
with the Renaissance and the Age of Reason in Europe
when political theory began to resurface under those
like Locke and Hobbes.
Voltaire even went so far as to
write a satirical
play about the Trial of Socrates. There
were a number of paintings about his life including Socrates
Tears Alcibiades from the Embrace of Sensual Pleasure
by Jean-Baptiste Regnault
and The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David in
the later 18th century.
day, the Socratic
Method is still used in classroom and law school
discourse to expose underlying issues in both subject
and the speaker. He has been recognized with accolades
ranging from frequent mentions in pop culture (such as
the movie Bill
& Ted's Excellent Adventure and a Greek
rock band called Socrates Drank the
Conium) to numerous busts in academic institutions
in recognition of his contribution to education.
past century, numerous plays about Socrates have also
focused on Socrates' life and influence. One of the most
recent has been Socrates on Trial,
a play based on Aristophanes' Clouds and Plato's
Apology, Crito, and Phaedo, all
adapted for modern performance.
of and reaction to Socrates has been undertaken by both
historians and philosophers from the time of his death
to the present day with a multitude of conclusions and
perspectives. Although he was not directly prosecuted
for his connection to Critias, leader of the
Spartan-backed Thirty Tyrants, and "showed
considerable personal courage in refusing to submit to
[them]", he was seen by some as a figure who mentored
oligarchs who became abusive tyrants, and undermined
Athenian democracy. The Sophistic movement that he
railed at in life survived him, but by the 3rd century
BC, was rapidly overtaken by the many philosophical
schools of thought that Socrates influenced.
death is considered iconic and his status as a martyr of
philosophy overshadows most contemporary and posthumous
criticism. However, Xenophon mentions Socrates'
"arrogance" and that he was "an expert in the art of
pimping" or "self-presentation".
Direct criticism of Socrates the man almost disappears
after this time, but there is a noticeable preference
for Plato or Aristotle over the elements of Socratic
philosophy distinct from those of his students, even
into the Middle Ages.
scholarship holds that, with so much of his own thought
obscured and possibly altered by Plato, it is impossible
to gain a clear picture of Socrates amid all the
contradictory evidence. That both Cynicism and Stoicism, which carried heavy
influence from Socratic thought, were unlike or even
contrary to Platonism further illustrates
this. The ambiguity and lack of reliability serves as
the modern basis of criticism—that it is nearly
impossible to know the real Socrates. Some controversy
also exists about Socrates' attitude towards homosexuality
and as to whether or not he believed in the Olympian
gods, was monotheistic, or held some other
However, it is still commonly taught and held with
little exception that Socrates is the progenitor of
subsequent Western philosophy, to the point that
philosophers before him are referred to as pre-Socratic.
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Socrates".
Encyclopædia Britannica (11th
ed.). Cambridge University Press.
Daniel; Roach, Peter, James Hartman and Jane Setter,
eds. Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary.
17th edition. Cambridge UP, 2006.
- Kofman, Sarah (1998). Socrates:
Fictions of a Philosopher. p. 34. ISBN 0-8014-3551-X.
- Roberson, C.
for Criminal Justice Professionals (p.24) CRC
Press, 8 Dec 2009 ISBN 1420086723
- A. Rubel, M.
and Loathing in Ancient Athens: Religion and
Politics During the Peloponnesian War.
Routledge, 11 Sep 2014. ISBN 1317544803
Rise and Fall of the Socratic Problem pp. 1-23
(The Cambridge Companion to Socrates).
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ISBN 9780521833424. Retrieved 2015-05-07.
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and the Socratic Dialogue: The Philosophical Use
of a Literary Form, Cambridge University
Press, 1998, p. xvii.
- Many other
writers added to the fashion of Socratic dialogues
(called Sőkratikoi logoi) at the time. In
addition to Plato and Xenophon, each of the
following is credited by some source as having added
to the genre: Aeschines of
Sphettus, Antisthenes, Aristippus, Bryson, Cebes,
Crito, Euclid of Megara, and
Phaedo. It is unlikely Plato was the first in this
field (Vlastos, p. 52).
Cambridge Companion to Socrates (p.xiv).
Cambridge University Press, 2011 ISBN
strangeness. The Stanford Encyclopedia
of Philosophy (Spring 2014 Edition), Edward N.
Retrieved 2015-04-16.(ed. first source for <
Kahn - Plato
and the Socratic Dialogue: The Philosophical Use
of a Literary Form (p.75) Cambridge University
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Tales: Being an Alternative History Revealing
the Characters, the Plots, and the Hidden Scenes
That Make Up the True Story of Philosophy,
John Wiley & Sons, 2008, p. 5, ISBN
- See also
R.D'A.Ward, Sokrátis : Soul Scientist,
York : Aretí Publications, 2013
Nails - Agora,
Academy, and the Conduct of Philosophy (p.9)
Springer Science & Business Media, 31 Jul 1995 ISBN 0792335430
S., - Socrates:
A Guide for the Perplexed (p.2 & Note 10 on
p.157-8) A&C Black, 30 Aug 2009 [Retrieved
2015-04-16](ed. Note 10. shows a relevant quote from
Companion to Socrates (p.299-30). John
Wiley & Sons, 11 May 2009 ISBN
Retrieved 2015-04-17.(ed. a translation of one
fragment reads - "But from them the sculptor,
blatherer on the lawful, turned away. Spellbinder of
the Greeks, who made them precise in language.
Sneerer trained by rhetoroticians, sub-Attic
ironist." c.f. source for a discussion of this
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tradition is attested in Pausanias, 1.22.8;
for a modern denial, see Kleine Pauly,
"Sokrates" 7; the tradition is a confusion with the
sculptor, Socrates of Thebes, mentioned in
a contemporary of Pindar.
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telling to refer to Thucydides (3.82.8):
"Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage
of a loyal ally; prudent hesitation, specious
cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for
unmanliness; ability to see all sides of a question
inaptness to act on any. Frantic violence, became
the attribute of manliness; cautious plotting, a
justifiable means of self-defense. The advocate of
extreme measures was always trustworthy; his
opponent a man to be suspected."
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of Socratic thought
Criticisms of Socratic thought is an article about how
philosophers and thinkers
were critical of Socratic thought.
had detractors situated within the early Hellenistic period.
to Socratic thought
Aristoxenus accused Socrates
of bigamy as did other Peripatetics
(Morrison); Callisthenes, Demetrius of Phalerum,
and Hieronymus (Long). 
of Tarentum, during the latter parts of the fourth
century B.C., wrote a polemic Life of Socrates.
According to Aristoxenus, Socrates was an individual
who was uneducated, ignorant (uneducated and
ignorant are perhaps the same thing in the modern
reading) and also he exhibited licentiousness,
and was "guilty of violent anger and shameful
dissoluteness", and undisciplined. 
so far as to state of Socrates irascibility, to
produce within him behaviour outside of something
which was societally acceptable i.e. indecorum
named Spintharus, who was Aristoxenus' father, or
teacher (Wehrli), apparently claimed Socrates was not
always able to control his emotions. In respect to
this as a reliable disclosure on the nature of
Socrates, he is thought at least to have at sometime
associated himself with Socrates, if this is the case,
then presumably as a student of his. 
(1994) thinks him to be "unkind", and to have written
the work to discredit Socrates' thinking. Fitton and
Bicknell consider Aristoxenus to have found some
elements of truth in his account. 
were established on the perception of differences as
to the role of the philosopher and how he should
provide lecture to pupils. Persons of this school of thought including
Epicurus and Metrodorus, Idomeneus, Zeno of Sidon and Philodemus, Diogenes of Oenoanda
all represented figures of history who were apparently
hostile to the teachings of Socrates. Colotes, who was a follower of
Epicurus during the 3rd century B.C., considered
Socrates famous claim to wisdom by
ignorance as hypocritical, Socrates as an
"imposter", and an individual who said one thing but
did another i.e. he was not true to his words
The Clouds, is a critique of
view of Aristophanes, there is the
preponsity to find him derogatory and slanderous of
alternative view is of the poet in his
characterisation of Socrates in his play, is of a
person motivated not for an assassination of the
character of Socrates, but instead to constructively
criticise Socrates, and to communicate a kind of
warning to the philosopher (Benardete).
Plato' Symposium treats
the criticisms of Aristophanes.
Polycrates wrote an
oppositional work c.393 B.C. entitled The
Prosecution of Socrates or, alternatively
titled, The Accusation of Socrates. The work
is lost, and is known primarily through the later
transmission of Isocrates in his work Busiris.
The work is thought to have considered Socrates as
being anti-democratic, according to Wilson.
Bowery thinks Plato was critical.
criticised Socrates' doctorine of theory of forms.
In Gorgias, the
figure Callicles, is contrary to Socrates'
position.Nothing biographical is known of Callicles.
criticised the ideas put forward by Socrates within
the Republic, which as a whole are now known as
communism. While Socrates champions unity in the city,
Aristotle thinks diversity is the correct choice.
apparently rejected the ideas of Socrates to some
extent, in-as-much, he thought Socrates "a villain"
(Kaufmann), and as being dogmatic (Nehamas).
(D.R. Morrison). The Cambridge Companion to
Socrates (p.368). Cambridge University
Morrison (Professor of Philosophy and Classical
Studies at Rice University. He has also been a
Rockefeller Fellow at the University Center for
Human Values at Princeton University c.2011). The
Cambridge Companion to Socrates (p.368).
Cambridge University Press, 2011. ISBN 0521833426. Retrieved 2015-04-07.
A. Long - Irving Stone Professor of Literature
in the Department of Classics at the University
of California, Berkeley. Stoic
Studies. University of California
Press, 1996. ISBN 0520229746. Retrieved 2015-04-07.
Liddel, P Low. Inscriptions
and Their Uses in Greek and Latin Literature
(p.80). Oxford University Press, 26
Sep 2013. ISBN 0199665745. Retrieved 2015-05-01.
Death of Socrates (p.91-2). Harvard
University Press, 2007. ISBN 0674026837. Retrieved 2015-04-30.
- Xenophon (Translated by Sir William
Smith, Connop Thirlwall, George Bomford Wheeler), Raphael Kühner, Gustav Friedrich Wiggers,
Schleiermacher - Xenophon's
Memorabilia of Socrates: With English Notes,
Critical and Explanatory, the Prolegomena of
Kühner, Wiggers' Life of Socrates, Etc (p.374)
Harper & brothers, 1848 [Retrieved 2015-04-30]
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of Tarentum and the Birth of Musicology (p.126)
Routledge, 8 Apr 2014 ISBN
1135877475 [Retrieved 2015-05-01]
- C.A. Baron
of Tauromenium and Hellenistic Historiography
(p.115) Cambridge University Press, 2013 ISBN
1107000971 [Retrieved 2015-5-01]
of Tarentum: Discussion (p.211, 252, 254).
Transaction Publishers, 2012. ISBN 1412843014. Retrieved 2015-04-30.(ed. p.252 accessed
Art of Biography in Antiquity.
Cambridge University Press, 5 Apr 2012. ISBN 110701669X. Retrieved 2015-05-01.(ed. < father >)
Horky - Plato
and Pythagoreanism (p.42) Oxford University
Press, 19 Sep 2013 ISBN
0199898227 [Retrieved 2015-05-02]("the Suda identifies both Spintharus
and Mnesius as Aristoxenus father....")
Winspear - The
Genesis of Plato's Thought: Second Edition
(p.80) Transaction Publishers, 31 Dec 2012
1412844622 [Retrieved 2015-05-04]
Mansfeld - Prolegomena:
Questions to Be Settled Before the Study of an
Author Or a Text (p.184) BRILL, 1994 ISBN
9004100849 [Retrieved 2015-04-01]
Epicurean Criticism of Socrates (PDF). reprinted
from PHOENIX - University of Toronto Press. Retrieved 2015-05-01.
Annas - Ancient
Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction Oxford
University Press, 12 Oct 2000 ISBN
0191578304 [Retrieved 2015-05-01]
Sedley - Oxford
Studies in Ancient Philosophy: Winter 2003
(p.211) Oxford University Press, 15 Oct 2002
0199259089 Volume 23 of Oxford Studies
in Ancient Philosophy [Retrieved 2015-05-01]
Texts on Socrates: Plato's Euthyphro, Apology,
and Crito, and Aristophanes' Clouds (p.30)
(edited by T.G. West, G Starry West) ISBN
0801485746 [Retrieved 2015-3-31]
Socrates as Educator (p.185,p.186 - Note.17).
SUNY Press, 19 Oct 2000. ISBN 0791447235. Retrieved 2015-04-30.
S Benardete - Plato's
Symposium: A Translation by Seth Benardete with
Commentaries by Allan Bloom and Seth Benardete
(p.104) University of Chicago Press, 1 Feb
2001 (reprint) ISBN
0226042758 [Retrieved 2015-04-30]
Education to Virtue: Learning the Love of
the Noble (p.57,60,61). SUNY Press,
1998. ISBN 0791436535. Retrieved 2015-04-30.
Bussanich, N.D. Smith - The
Bloomsbury Companion to Socrates (p.311)
A&C Black, 3 Jan 2013 ISBN
1441112847 [Retrieved 2015-05-02](ed. <
The Accusation of Socrates >)
Bowery - Baylor University
Roecklein - Machiavelli
and Epicureanism: An Investigation into the
Origins of Early Modern Political Thought (p.21)
Lexington Books, 5 Oct 2012 ISBN
0739177117 [Retrieved 2015-04-30]
Sedley - Oxford
Studies in Ancient Philosophy XXXI: Winter 2006
Oxford University Press, 9 Nov 2006 ISBN
0199204217 Volume 31 of Oxford Studies
in Ancient Philosophy [Retrieved
2015-04-30](< against/contrary >)
Rachel, "Callicles and Thrasymachus" 4.
Callicles on Natural and Conventional Justice
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter
2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
Nichols - Socrates
and the Political Community: An Ancient Debate
(p.156...) SUNY Press, 1 Jan 1987 ISBN
0887063950 [Retrieved 2015-04-30]
Rubin - Justice
V. Law in Greek Political Thought (p.48)
Rowman & Littlefield, 1 Jan 1997 ISBN
0847684237 (ed. p.48 - ".... That Aristotle
objects to Socrates' treating the city as an
organic unity is fairly obvious ...") [Retrieved
Kaufmann - Nietzsche,
Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist (p.391)
Princeton University Press, 1974 ISBN
0691019835 (ed. "Nietzsche repudiated
Socrates") [Retrieved 2015-04-30]
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From Internet Encyclopedia of
Plato is one of the world's
best known and most widely read and studied
philosophers. He was the student of Socrates and the
teacher of Aristotle,
and he wrote in the middle of the fourth century
B.C.E. in ancient Greece. Though influenced primarily
by Socrates, to the extent that Socrates is usually
the main character in many of Plato's writings, he was
also influenced by Heraclitus,
and the Pythagoreans.
varying degrees of controversy over which of Plato's
works are authentic, and in what order they were
written, due to their antiquity and the manner of
their preservation through time. Nonetheless, his
earliest works are generally regarded as the most
reliable of the ancient sources on Socrates, and the
character Socrates that we know through these writings
is considered to be one of the greatest of the ancient
middle to later works, including his most famous work,
the Republic, are generally regarded as
providing Plato's own philosophy, where the main
character in effect speaks for Plato himself. These
works blend ethics,
philosophy, moral psychology, epistemology,
and metaphysics into an interconnected and systematic
philosophy. It is most of all from Plato that we get
the theory of Forms, according to which the world we
know through the senses is only an imitation of the
pure, eternal, and unchanging world of the Forms.
Plato's works also contain the origins of the familiar
complaint that the arts work by inflaming the
passions, and are mere illusions. We also are
introduced to the ideal of "Platonic love:" Plato saw
love as motivated by a longing for the highest Form of
beauty—The Beautiful Itself, and love as the
motivational power through which the highest of
achievements are possible. Because they tended to
distract us into accepting less than our highest
potentials, however, Plato mistrusted and generally
advised against physical expressions of love.
Travels and the Founding of the Academy
Trips to Sicily and Death
Dialogues and the Historical Socrates
of Plato's Works
Works Attributed to Plato
- The Early
Characterization of Socrates
Positions in the Early Dialogues
Positions in the Early Dialogues
Positions in the Early Dialogues
and Epistemological Positions in the Early
- The Middle
between the Early and Middle Dialogues
Theory of Forms
of the Arts
Transitional and Late Dialogues
of the Earlier Theory of Forms
Myth of Atlantis
Creation of the Universe
and Further Reading
Socrates and the Historical Socrates
and Plato's Early Period Dialogues
Books on Plato
widely accepted that Plato, the Athenian philosopher,
was born in 428-7 B.C.E and died at the age of eighty
or eighty-one at 348-7 B.C.E. These dates, however,
are not entirely certain, for according to Diogenes
Laertius (D.L.), following Apollodorus'
chronology, Plato was born the year Pericles died, was
six years younger than Isocrates, and died at the age
of eighty-four (D.L. 3.2-3.3). If Plato's date of
death is correct in Apollodorus' version, Plato would
have been born in 430 or 431. Diogenes' claim that
Plato was born the year Pericles died would put his
birth in 429. Later (at 3.6), Diogenes says that Plato
was twenty-eight when Socrates was put to death (in
399), which would, again, put his year of birth at
427. In spite of the confusion, the dates of Plato's
life we gave above, which are based upon Eratosthenes'
calculations, have traditionally been accepted as
can be known about Plato's early life. According to
Diogenes, whose testimony is notoriously unreliable,
Plato's parents were Ariston and Perictione (or
Potone—see D. L. 3.1). Both sides of the family
claimed to trace their ancestry back to Poseidon (D.L.
3.1). Diogenes' report that Plato's birth was the
result of Ariston's rape of Perictione (D.L. 3.1) is a
good example of the unconfirmed gossip in which
Diogenes so often indulges. We can be confident that
Plato also had two older brothers, Glaucon and
Adeimantus, and a sister, Potone, by the same parents
(see D.L. 3.4). (W. K. C. Guthrie, A History of
Greek Philosophy, vol. 4, 10 n. 4 argues
plausibly that Glaucon and Adeimantus were Plato's
older siblings.) After Ariston's death, Plato's mother
married her uncle, Pyrilampes (in Plato's
Charmides, we are told that Pyrilampes was
Charmides' uncle, and Charmides was Plato's mother's
brother), with whom she had another son, Antiphon,
Plato's half-brother (see Plato, Parmenides
came from one of the wealthiest and most politically
active families in Athens. Their political activities,
however, are not seen as laudable ones by historians.
One of Plato's uncles (Charmides) was a member of the
notorious "Thirty Tyrants," who overthrew the Athenian
democracy in 404 B.C.E. Charmides' own uncle, Critias,
was the leader of the Thirty. Plato's relatives were
not exclusively associated with the oligarchic faction
in Athens, however. His stepfather Pyrilampes was said
to have been a close associate of Pericles, when he
was the leader of the democratic faction.
actual given name was apparently Aristocles, after his
grandfather. "Plato" seems to have started as a
nickname (for platos, or "broad"),
perhaps first given to him by his wrestling teacher
for his physique, or for the breadth of his style, or
even the breadth of his forehead (all given in D.L.
3.4). Although the name Aristocles was still given as
Plato's name on one of the two epitaphs on his tomb
(see D.L. 3.43), history knows him as Plato.
c. Early Travels and the Founding of
Socrates died, Plato left Athens, staying first in
Megara, but then going on to several other places,
including perhaps Cyrene, Italy, Sicily, and even
Egypt. Strabo (17.29) claims that he was shown where
Plato lived when he visited Heliopolis in Egypt. Plato
occasionally mentions Egypt in his works, but not in
ways that reveal much of any consequence (see, for
examples, Phaedrus 274c-275b; Philebus
evidence may be found for his visits to Italy and
Sicily, especially in the Seventh Letter.
According to the account given there, Plato first went
to Italy and Sicily when he was "about forty" (324a).
While he stayed in Syracuse, he became the instructor
to Dion, brother-in-law of the tyrant Dionysius I.
According to doubtful stories from later antiquity,
Dionysius became annoyed with Plato at some point
during this visit, and arranged to have the
philosopher sold into slavery (Diod. 15.7; Plut.
Dion 5; D.L. 3.19-21).
event, Plato returned to Athens and founded a school,
known as the Academy.
(This is where we get our word, "academic." The
Academy got its name from its location, a grove of
trees sacred to the hero Academus—or Hecademus [see
D.L. 3.7]—a mile or so outside the Athenian walls; the
site can still be visited in modern Athens, but
visitors will find it depressingly void of interesting
monuments or features.) Except for two more trips to
Sicily, the Academy seems to have been Plato's home
base for the remainder of his life.
d. Later Trips to Sicily and Death
of Plato's remaining two Sicilian adventures came
after Dionysius I died and his young son, Dionysius
II, ascended to the throne. His uncle/brother-in-law
Dion persuaded the young tyrant to invite Plato to
come to help him become a philosopher-ruler of the
sort described in the Republic. Although
the philosopher (now in his sixties) was not entirely
persuaded of this possibility (Seventh Letter
328b-c), he agreed to go. This trip, like the last
one, however, did not go well at all. Within months,
the younger Dionysius had Dion sent into exile for
sedition (Seventh Letter 329c, Third
Letter 316c-d), and Plato became effectively
under house arrest as the "personal guest" of the
dictator (Seventh Letter 329c-330b).
eventually managed to gain the tyrant's permission to
return to Athens (Seventh Letter 338a), and
he and Dion were reunited at the Academy (Plut.
Dion 17). Dionysius agreed that "after the
war" (Seventh Letter 338a; perhaps the
Lucanian War in 365 B.C.E.), he would invite Plato and
Dion back to Syracuse (Third Letter
316e-317a, Seventh Letter 338a-b). Dion
and Plato stayed in Athens for the next four years (c.
365-361 B.C.E.). Dionysius then summoned Plato, but
wished for Dion to wait a while longer. Dion accepted
the condition and encouraged Plato to go immediately
anyway (Third Letter 317a-b, Seventh
Letter 338b-c), but Plato refused the
invitation, much to the consternation of both
Syracusans (Third Letter 317a,
Seventh Letter 338c). Hardly a year had
passed, however, before Dionysius sent a ship, with
one of Plato's Pythagorean friends (Archedemus, an
associate of Archytas—see Seventh Letter
339a-b and next section) on board begging Plato to
return to Syracuse. Partly because of his friend
Dion's enthusiasm for the plan, Plato departed one
more time to Syracuse. Once again, however, things in
Syracuse were not at all to Plato's liking. Dionysius
once again effectively imprisoned Plato in Syracuse,
and the latter was only able to escape again with help
from his Tarentine friends ( Seventh Letter
subsequently gathered an army of mercenaries and
invaded his own homeland. But his success was
short-lived: he was assassinated and Sicily was
reduced to chaos. Plato, perhaps now completely
disgusted with politics, returned to his beloved
Academy, where he lived out the last thirteen years of
his life. According to Diogenes, Plato was buried at
the school he founded (D.L. 3.41). His grave, however,
has not yet been discovered by archeological
2. Influences on Plato
and Diogenes agree that Plato had some early
association with either the philosophy of Heraclitus
of Ephesus, or with one or more of that philosopher's
followers (see Aristotle Metaph. 987a32, D.L.
3.4-3.5). The effects of this influence can perhaps be
seen in the mature Plato's conception of the sensible
world as ceaselessly changing.
b. Parmenides and Zeno
be no doubt that Plato was also strongly influenced by
(both of Elea), in Plato's theory of the Forms, which
are plainly intended to satisfy the Parmenidean
requirement of metaphysical unity and stability in
knowable reality. Parmenides and Zeno also appear as
characters in his dialogue, the Parmenides.
Diogenes Laertius also notes other important
mixed together in his works the arguments of
Heracleitus, the Pythagoreans, and Socrates.
Regarding the sensibles, he borrows from Heraclitus;
regarding the intelligibles, from Pythagoras; and
regarding politics, from Socrates. (D.L. 3.8)
later, Diogenes makes a series of comparisons intended
to show how much Plato owed to the comic poet,
c. The Pythagoreans
Laertius (3.6) claims that Plato visited several Pythagoreans
in Southern Italy (one of whom, Theodorus, is also
mentioned as a friend to Socrates in Plato's
Theaetetus). In the Seventh Letter,
we learn that Plato was a friend of Archytas of
Tarentum, a well-known Pythagorean statesman and
thinker (see 339d-e), and in the Phaedo,
Plato has Echecrates, another Pythagorean, in the
group around Socrates on his final day in prison.
Plato's Pythagorean influences seem especially evident
in his fascination with mathematics, and in some of
his political ideals (see Plato's
political philosophy), expressed in various ways
in several dialogues.
it is plain that no influence on Plato was greater
than that of Socrates. This is evident not only in
many of the doctrines and arguments we find in Plato's
dialogues, but perhaps most obviously in Plato's
choice of Socrates as the main character in most of
his works. According to the Seventh Letter,
Plato counted Socrates "the justest man alive" (324e).
According to Diogenes Laertius, the respect was mutual
3. Plato's Writings
a. Plato's Dialogues and the
possessed of outstanding intellectual and artistic
ability even from his youth, according to Diogenes,
Plato began his career as a writer of tragedies, but
hearing Socrates talk, he wholly abandoned that path,
and even burned a tragedy he had hoped to enter in a
dramatic competition (D.L. 3.5). Whether or not any of
these stories is true, there can be no question of
Plato's mastery of dialogue, characterization, and
dramatic context. He may, indeed, have written some
epigrams; of the surviving epigrams attributed to him
in antiquity, some may be genuine.
not the only writer of dialogues in which Socrates
appears as a principal character and speaker. Others,
including Alexamenos of Teos (Aristotle Poetics
1447b11; De Poetis fr. 3 Ross [=Rose2
72]), Aeschines (D.L. 2.60-63, 3.36, Plato
Apology 33e), Antisthenes
(D.L. 3.35, 6; Plato, Phaedo 59b; Xenophon,
Memorabilia 2.4.5, 3.2.17), Aristippus
(D.L. 2.65-104, 3.36, Plato Phaedo 59c),
Eucleides (D.L. 2.106-112), Phaedo (D.L. 2.105; Plato,
Phaedo passim), Simon (D.L. 122-124), and
especially Xenophon (see D.L. 2.48-59, 3.34), were
also well-known "Socratics" who composed such works. A
recent study of these, by Charles H. Kahn (1996,
1-35), concludes that the very existence of the
genre—and all of the conflicting images of Socrates we
find given by the various authors—shows that we cannot
trust as historically reliable any of the accounts of
Socrates given in antiquity, including those given by
But it is
one thing to claim that Plato was not the only one to
write Socratic dialogues, and quite another to hold
that Plato was only following the rules of some genre
of writings in his own work. Such a claim, at any
rate, is hardly established simply by the existence of
these other writers and their writings. We may still
wish to ask whether Plato's own use of Socrates as his
main character has anything at all to do with the
historical Socrates. The question has led to a number
of seemingly irresolvable scholarly disputes. At least
one important ancient source, Aristotle, suggests that
at least some of the doctrines Plato puts into the
mouth of the "Socrates" of the "early" or "Socrates"
dialogues are the very ones espoused by the historical
Socrates. Because Aristotle has no reason not to be
truthful about this issue, many scholars believe that
his testimony provides a solid basis for
distinguishing the "Socrates" of the "early" dialogues
from the character by that name in Plato's supposedly
later works, whose views and arguments Aristotle
suggests are Plato's own.
b. Dating Plato's Dialogues
to approach this issue has been to find some way to
arrange the dialogues into at least relative dates. It
has frequently been assumed that if we can establish a
relative chronology for when Plato wrote each of the
dialogues, we can provide some objective test for the
claim that Plato represented Socrates more accurately
in the earlier dialogues, and less accurately in the
antiquity, the ordering of Plato's dialogues was given
entirely along thematic lines. The best reports of
these orderings (see Diogenes Laertius' discussion at
3.56-62) included many works whose authenticity is now
either disputed or unanimously rejected. The
uncontroversial internal and external historical
evidence for a chronological ordering is relatively
slight. Aristotle (Politics 2.6.1264b24-27),
Diogenes Laertius (3.37), and Olympiodorus (Prol.
6.24) state that Plato wrote the Laws after
the Republic. Internal references in the Sophist
(217a) and the Statesman (also known as
the Politicus; 257a, 258b) show the Statesman
to come after the Sophist. The Timaeus
(17b-19b) may refer to Republic as coming
before it, and more clearly mentions the Critias
as following it (27a). Similarly, internal references
in the Sophist (216a, 217c) and the Theaetetus
(183e) may be thought to show the intended order
of three dialogues: Parmenides, Theaetetus,
and Sophist. Even so, it does not follow
that these dialogues were actually written in that
order. At Theaetetus 143c, Plato announces
through his characters that he will abandon the
somewhat cumbersome dialogue form that is employed in
his other writings. Since the form does not appear in
a number of other writings, it is reasonable to infer
that those in which it does not appear were written
after the Theaetetus.
have sought to augment this fairly scant evidence by
employing different methods of ordering the remaining
dialogues. One such method is that of stylometry, by
which various aspects of Plato's diction in each
dialogue are measured against their uses and
frequencies in other dialogues. Originally done by
laborious study by individuals, stylometry can now be
done more efficiently with assistance by computers.
Another, even more popular, way to sort and group the
dialogues is what is called "content analysis," which
works by finding and enumerating apparent
commonalities or differences in the philosophical
style and content of the various dialogues. Neither of
these general approaches has commanded unanimous
assent among scholars, and it is unlikely that debates
about this topic can ever be put entirely to rest.
Nonetheless, most recent scholarship seems to assume
that Plato's dialogues can be sorted into different
groups, and it is not unusual for books and articles
on the philosophy of Socrates to state that by
"Socrates" they mean to refer to the character in
Plato's "early" or Socratic dialogues, as if this
Socrates was as close to the historical Socrates as we
are likely to get. (We have more to say on this
subject in the next section.) Perhaps the most
thorough examination of this sort can be found in
Gregory Vlastos's, Socrates: Ironist and Moral
Philosopher (Cambridge and Cornell, 1991,
chapters 2-4), where ten significant differences
between the "Socrates" of Plato's "early" dialogues
and the character by that name in the later dialogues
are noted. Our own view of the probable dates and
groups of dialogues, which to some extent combine the
results of stylometry and content analysis, is as
follows (all lists but the last in alphabetical
(All after the death of Socrates, but before Plato's
first trip to Sicily in 387 B.C.E.):
Charmides, Crito, Euthydemus, Euthyphro, Gorgias,
Hippias Major, Hippias Minor, Ion, Laches, Lysis,
Protagoras, Republic Bk. I.
(Either at the end of the early group or at the
beginning of the middle group, c. 387-380 B.C.E.):
(c. 380-360 B.C.E.)
Republic Bks. II-X, Symposium
(Either at the end of the middle group, or the
beginning of the late group, c. 360-355 B.C.E.)
(c. 355-347 B.C.E.; possibly in chronological order)
Statesman, Philebus, Timaeus, Critias, Laws
c. Transmission of Plato's Works
for the Timaeus, all of Plato's works were
lost to the Western world until medieval times,
preserved only by Moslem scholars in the Middle East.
In 1578 Henri Estienne (whose Latinized name was
Stephanus) published an edition of the dialogues in
which each page of the text is separated into five
sections (labeled a, b, c, d, and e). The standard
style of citation for Platonic texts includes the name
of the text, followed by Stephanus page and section
numbers (e.g. Republic 511d). Scholars
sometimes also add numbers after the Stephanus section
letters, which refer to line numbers within the
Stephanus sections in the standard Greek edition of
the dialogues, the Oxford Classical texts.
4. Other Works Attributed to Plato
other works, including thirteen letters and eighteen
epigrams, have been attributed to Plato. These other
works are generally called the spuria and
the dubia. The spuria were
collected among the works of Plato but suspected as
frauds even in antiquity. The dubia are
those presumed authentic in later antiquity, but which
have more recently been doubted.
the spuria are mentioned by Diogenes
Laertius at 3.62. Five of these are no longer extant:
the Midon or Horse-breeder,
Phaeacians, Chelidon, Seventh Day, and Epimenides.
Five others do exist: the Halcyon,
Axiochus, Demodocus, Eryxias, and Sisyphus.
To the ten Diogenes Laertius lists, we may
uncontroversially add On Justice, On Virtue,
and the Definitions, which was included in
the medieval manuscripts of Plato's work, but not
mentioned in antiquity.
whose authenticity was also doubted in antiquity
include the Second Alcibiades (or Alcibiades
II), Epinomis, Hipparchus, and Rival
Lovers (also known as either Rivals
or Lovers), and these are sometimes defended
as authentic today. If any are of these are authentic,
the Epinomis would be in the late group,
and the others would go with the early or early
or eighteen epigrams (poems appropriate to funerary
monuments or other dedications) are also attributed to
Plato by various ancient authors. Most of these are
almost certainly not by Plato, but some few may be
authentic. Of the ones that could be authentic (Cooper
1997, 1742 names 1, 2, 7, and especially 3 as possibly
authentic), one (1) is a love poem dedicated to a
student of astronomy, perhaps at the Academy, another
(2) appears to be a funerary inscription for that same
student, another (3) is a funerary inscription for
Plato's Syracusan friend, Dion (in which the author
confesses that Dion "maddened my heart with erôs"),
and the last (7) is a love poem to a young woman or
girl. None appear to provide anything of great
present special risks to scholars: On the one
hand, any decision not to include them among the
authentic dialogues creates the risk of losing
valuable evidence for Plato's (or perhaps Socrates')
philosophy; on the other hand, any decision to include
them creates the risk of obfuscating the correct view
of Plato's (or Socrates') philosophy, by including
non-Platonic (or non-Socratic) elements within that
philosophy. The dubia include the First
Alcibiades (or Alcibiades I), Minos,
and Theages, all of which, if
authentic, would probably go with the early or early
transitional groups, the Cleitophon, which
might be early, early transitional, or middle, and the
letters, of which the Seventh seems the best
candidate for authenticity. Some scholars have also
suggested the possibility that the Third
may also be genuine. If any are authentic, the letters
would appear to be works of the late period, with the
possible exception of the Thirteenth Letter,
which could be from the middle period.
all of the dialogues now accepted as genuine have been
challenged as inauthentic by some scholar or another.
In the 19th Century in particular, scholars often
considered arguments for and against the authenticity
of dialogues whose authenticity is now only rarely
doubted. Of those we listed as authentic, above (in
the early group), only the Hippias Major
continues occasionally to be listed as inauthentic.
The strongest evidence against the authenticity of the
Hippias Major is the fact that it is never
mentioned in any of the ancient sources. However,
relative to how much was actually written in
antiquity, so little now remains that our lack of
ancient references to this dialogue does not seem to
be an adequate reason to doubt its authenticity. In
style and content, it seems to most contemporary
scholars to fit well with the other Platonic
5. The Early Dialogues
a. Historical Accuracy
no one thinks that Plato simply recorded the actual
words or speeches of Socrates verbatim, the argument
has been made that there is nothing in the speeches
Socrates makes in the Apology that he could
have not uttered at the historical trial. At any rate,
it is fairly common for scholars to treat Plato's Apology
as the most reliable of the ancient sources on
the historical Socrates. The other early dialogues are
certainly Plato's own creations. But as we have said,
most scholars treat these as representing more or less
accurately the philosophy and behavior of the
historical Socrates—even if they do not provide
literal historical records of actual Socratic
conversations. Some of the early dialogues include
anachronisms that prove their historical inaccuracy.
possible, of course, that the dialogues are all wholly
Plato's inventions and have nothing at all to do with
the historical Socrates. Contemporary scholars
generally endorse one of the following four views
about the dialogues and their representation of
- The Unitarian
This view, more popular early in the 20th Century
than it is now, holds that there is but a single
philosophy to be found in all of Plato's works (of
any period, if such periods can even be identified
reliably). There is no reason, according to the
Unitarian scholar, ever to talk about "Socratic
philosophy" (at least from anything to be found in
Plato—everything in Plato's dialogues is Platonic
philosophy, according to the Unitarian). One
recent version of this view has been argued by
Charles H. Kahn (1996). Most later, but still
ancient, interpretations of Plato were essentially
Unitarian in their approach. Aristotle, however, was
a notable exception.
- The Literary
We call this approach the "literary atomist view,"
because those who propose this view treat each
dialogue as a complete literary whole, whose proper
interpretation must be achieved without reference to
any of Plato's other works. Those who endorse this
view reject completely any relevance or validity of
sorting or grouping the dialogues into groups, on
the ground that any such sorting is of no value to
the proper interpretation of any given dialogue. In
this view, too, there is no reason to make any
distinction between "Socratic philosophy" and
"Platonic philosophy." According to the literary
atomist, all philosophy to be found in the works of
Plato should be attributed only to Plato.
According to this view, the most widely held of all
of the interpretative approaches, the differences
between the early and later dialogues represent
developments in Plato's own philosophical and
literary career. These may or may not be related to
his attempting in any of the dialogues to preserve
the memory of the historical Socrates (see approach
4); such differences may only represent changes in
Plato's own philosophical views. Developmentalists
may generally identify the earlier positions or
works as "Socratic" and the later ones "Platonic,"
but may be agnostic about the relationship of the
"Socratic" views and works to the actual historical
Perhaps the most common of the Developmentalist
positions is the view that the "development"
noticeable between the early and later dialogues may
be attributed to Plato's attempt, in the early
dialogues, to represent the historical Socrates more
or less accurately. Later on, however (perhaps
because of the development of the genre of "Socratic
writings," within which other authors were making no
attempt at historical fidelity), Plato began more
freely to put his own views into the mouth of the
character, "Socrates," in his works. Plato's own
student, Aristotle, seems to have understood the
dialogues in this way.
scholars who are skeptical about the entire program of
dating the dialogues into chronological groups, and
who are thus strictly speaking not historicists (see,
for example, Cooper 1997, xii-xvii) nonetheless accept
the view that the "early" works are "Socratic" in tone
and content. With few exceptions, however, scholars
agreed that if we are unable to distinguish any group
of dialogues as early or "Socratic," or even if we can
distinguish a separate set of "Socratic" works but
cannot identify a coherent philosophy within those
works, it makes little sense to talk about "the
philosophy of historical Socrates" at all. There is
just too little (and too little that is at all
interesting) to be found that could reliably be
attributed to Socrates from any other ancient authors.
Any serious philosophical interest in Socrates, then,
must be pursued through study of Plato's early or
b. Plato's Characterization of
dialogues generally accepted as early (or "Socratic"),
the main character is always Socrates. Socrates is
represented as extremely agile in question-and-answer,
which has come to be known as "the Socratic method of
teaching," or "the elenchus" (or elenchos,
from the Greek term for refutation), with Socrates
nearly always playing the role as questioner, for he
claimed to have no wisdom of his own to share with
others. Plato's Socrates, in this period, was adept at
reducing even the most difficult and recalcitrant
interlocutors to confusion and self-contradiction. In
the Apology, Socrates explains that the
embarrassment he has thus caused to so many of his
contemporaries is the result of a Delphic oracle given
to Socrates' friend Chaerephon (Apology
21a-23b), according to which no one was wiser than
Socrates. As a result of his attempt to discern the
true meaning of this oracle, Socrates gained a
divinely ordained mission in Athens to expose the
false conceit of wisdom. The embarrassment his
"investigations" have caused to so many of his
contemporaries—which Socrates claims was the root
cause of his being brought up on charges (Apology
23c-24b)—is thus no one's fault but his "victims," for
having chosen to live "the unexamined life" (see 38a).
that Plato's represents Socrates going about his
"mission" in Athens provides a plausible explanation
both of why the Athenians would have brought him to
trial and convicted him in the troubled years after
the end of the Peloponnesian War, and also of why
Socrates was not really guilty of the charges he
faced. Even more importantly, however, Plato's early
dialogues provide intriguing arguments and refutations
of proposed philosophical positions that interest and
challenge philosophical readers. Platonic dialogues
continue to be included among the required readings in
introductory and advanced philosophy classes, not only
for their ready accessibility, but also because they
raise many of the most basic problems of philosophy.
Unlike most other philosophical works, moreover, Plato
frames the discussions he represents in dramatic
settings that make the content of these discussions
especially compelling. So, for example, in the Crito,
we find Socrates discussing the citizen's duty
to obey the laws of the state as he awaits his own
legally mandated execution in jail, condemned by what
he and Crito both agree was a terribly wrong verdict,
the result of the most egregious misapplication of the
very laws they are discussing. The dramatic features
of Plato's works have earned attention even from
literary scholars relatively uninterested in
philosophy as such. Whatever their value for
specifically historical research, therefore, Plato's
dialogues will continue to be read and debated by
students and scholars, and the Socrates we find in the
early or "Socratic" dialogues will continue to be
counted among the greatest Western philosophers.
c. Ethical Positions in the Early
philosophical positions most scholars agree can be
found directly endorsed or at least suggested in the
early or "Socratic" dialogues include the following
moral or ethical views:
rejection of retaliation, or the return of harm for
harm or evil for evil (Crito 48b-c,
49c-d; Republic I.335a-e);
claim that doing injustice harms one's soul, the
thing that is most precious to one, and, hence, that
it is better to suffer injustice than to do it (Crito
47d-48a; Gorgias 478c-e, 511c-512b; Republic
form of what is called "eudaimonism," that is, that
goodness is to be understood in terms of
conduciveness to human happiness, well-being, or
flourishing, which may also be understood as "living
well," or "doing well" (Crito 48b; Euthydemus
278e, 282a; Republic I. 354a);
view that only virtue is good just by itself;
anything else that is good is good only insofar as
it serves or is used for or by virtue (Apology
30b; Euthydemus 281d-e);
view that there is some kind of unity among the
virtues: In some sense, all of the virtues are the
same (Protagoras 329b-333b, 361a-b);
view that the citizen who has agreed to live in a
state must always obey the laws of that state, or
else persuade the state to change its laws, or leave
the state (Crito 51b-c, 52a-d).
d. Psychological Positions in the
also appears to argue for, or directly makes a number
of related psychological views:
wrongdoing is done in ignorance, for everyone
desires only what is good (Protagoras
352a-c; Gorgias 468b; Meno
some sense, everyone actually believes certain moral
principles, even though some may think they do not
have such beliefs, and may disavow them in argument
(Gorgias 472b, 475e-476a).
e. Religious Positions in the Early
dialogues, we also find Socrates represented as
holding certain religious beliefs, such as:
gods are completely wise and good (Apology
28a; Euthyphro 6a, 15a; Meno
since his childhood (see Apology 31d)
Socrates has experienced a certain "divine
something" (Apology 31c-d; 40a; Euthyphro
3b; see also Phaedrus 242b), which
consists in a "voice" (Apology 31d; see
also Phaedrus 242c), or "sign" (Apology
40c, 41d; Euthydemus 272e; see
also Republic VI.496c; Phaedrus
242b) that opposes him when he is about to do
something wrong (Apology 40a, 40c);
forms of divination can allow human beings to come
to recognize the will of the gods (Apology
and rhapsodes are able to write and do the wonderful
things they write and do, not from knowledge or
expertise, but from some kind of divine inspiration.
The same canbe said of diviners and seers, although
they do seem to have some kind of expertise—perhaps
only some technique by which to put them in a state
of appropriate receptivity to the divine (Apology
22b-c; Laches 198e-199a; Ion
533d-536a, 538d-e; Meno 99c);
- No one
really knows what happens after death, but it is
reasonable to think that death is not an evil; there
may be an afterlife, in which the souls of the good
are rewarded, and the souls of the wicked are
punished (Apology 40c-41c; Crito
54b-c; Gorgias 523a-527a).
f. Methodological and Epistemological
Positions in the Early Dialogues
addition, Plato's Socrates in the early dialogues may
plausibly be regarded as having certain methodological
or epistemological convictions, including:
knowledge of ethical terms is at least a necessary
condition of reliable judging of specific instances
of the values they name (Euthyphro 4e-5d,
6e; Laches 189e-190b; Lysis
223b; Greater Hippias 304d-e; Meno
71a-b, 100b; Republic I.354b-c);
- A mere
list of examples of some ethical value—even if all
are authentic cases of that value—would never
provide an adequate analysis of what the value is,
nor would it provide an adequate definition of the
value term that refers to the value. Proper
definitions must state what is common to all
examples of the value (Euthyphro 6d-e; Meno
with expert knowledge or wisdom on a given subject
do not err in their judgments on that subject (Euthyphro
4e-5a; Euthydemus 279d-280b), go about
their business in their area of expertise in a
rational and regular way (Gorgias
503e-504b), and can teach and explain their subject
(Gorgias 465a, 500e-501b, 514a-b; Laches
185b, 185e, 1889e-190b); Protagoras
6. The Middle Dialogues
a. Differences between the
Early and Middle Dialogues
attempts to provide relative chronological orderings
of the early transitional and middle dialogues are
problematical because all agree that the main dialogue
of the middle period, the Republic, has
several features that make dating it precisely
especially difficult. As we have already said, many
scholars count the first book of the Republic
as among the early group of dialogues. But those who
read the entire Republic will also see that
the first book also provides a natural and effective
introduction to the remaining books of the work. A
recent study by Debra Nails ("The Dramatic Date of
Plato's Republic," The Classical Journal
93.4, 1998, 383-396) notes several anachronisms that
suggest that the process of writing (and perhaps
re-editing) the work may have continued over a very
long period. If this central work of the period is
difficult to place into a specific context, there can
be no great assurance in positioning any other works
relative to this one.
it does not take especially careful study of the
transitional and middle period dialogues to notice
clear differences in style and philosophical content
from the early dialogues. The most obvious change is
the way in which Plato seems to characterize Socrates:
In the early dialogues, we find Socrates simply asking
questions, exposing his interlocutors' confusions, all
the while professing his own inability to shed any
positive light on the subject, whereas in the middle
period dialogues, Socrates suddenly emerges as a kind
of positive expert, willing to affirm and defend his
own theories about many important subjects. In the
early dialogues, moreover, Socrates discusses mainly
ethical subjects with his interlocutors—with some
related religious, methodological, and epistemological
views scattered within the primarily ethical
discussions. In the middle period, Plato's Socrates'
interests expand outward into nearly every area of
inquiry known to humankind. The philosophical
positions Socrates advances in these dialogues are
vastly more systematical, including broad theoretical
inquiries into the connections between language and
reality (in the Cratylus), knowledge and
explanation (in the Phaedo and Republic,
Books V-VII). Unlike the Socrates of the early period,
who was the "wisest of men" only because he recognized
the full extent of his own ignorance, the Socrates of
the middle period acknowledges the possibility of
infallible human knowledge (especially in the famous
similes of light, the simile of the sun and good and
the simile of the divided line in Book VI and the
parable of the cave in Book VII of the Republic),
and this becomes possible in virtue of a special sort
of cognitive contact with the Forms or Ideas (eidê
), which exist in a supra-sensible realm
available only to thought. This theory of Forms,
introduced and explained in various contexts in each
of the middle period dialogues, is perhaps the single
best-known and most definitive aspect of what has come
to be known as Platonism.
b. The Theory of Forms
of his dialogues, Plato mentions supra-sensible
entities he calls "Forms" (or "Ideas"). So, for
example, in the Phaedo, we are told that
particular sensible equal things—for example, equal
sticks or stones (see Phaedo 74a-75d)—are
equal because of their "participation" or "sharing" in
the character of the Form of Equality, which is
absolutely, changelessly, perfectly, and essentially
equal. Plato sometimes characterizes this
participation in the Form as a kind of imaging, or
approximation of the Form. The same may be said of the
many things that are greater or smaller and the Forms
of Great and Small (Phaedo 75c-d), or the
many tall things and the Form of Tall (Phaedo
100e), or the many beautiful things and the Form of
Beauty (Phaedo 75c-d, Symposium
211e, Republic V.476c). When Plato writes
about instances of Forms "approximating" Forms, it is
easy to infer that, for Plato, Forms are exemplars. If
so, Plato believes that The Form of Beauty is perfect
beauty, the Form of Justice is perfect justice, and so
forth. Conceiving of Forms in this way was important
to Plato because it enabled the philosopher who grasps
the entities to be best able to judge to what extent
sensible instances of the Forms are good examples of
the Forms they approximate.
disagree about the scope of what is often called "the
theory of Forms," and question whether Plato began
holding that there are only Forms for a small range of
properties, such as tallness, equality, justice,
beauty, and so on, and then widened the scope to
include Forms corresponding to every term that can be
applied to a multiplicity of instances. In the Republic,
he writes as if there may be a great multiplicity of
Forms—for example, in Book X of that work, we find him
writing about the Form of Bed (see Republic
X.596b). He may have come to believe that for any set
of things that shares some property, there is a Form
that gives unity to the set of things (and univocity
to the term by which we refer to members of that set
of things). Knowledge involves the recognition of the
Forms (Republic V.475e-480a), and any
reliable application of this knowledge will involve
the ability compare the particular sensible
instantiations of a property to the Form.
c. Immortality and Reincarnation
early transitional dialogue, the Meno,
Plato has Socrates introduce the Orphic and
Pythagorean idea that souls are immortal and existed
before our births. All knowledge, he explains, is
actually recollected from this prior existence. In
perhaps the most famous passage in this dialogue,
Socrates elicits recollection about geometry from one
of Meno's slaves (Meno 81a-86b). Socrates'
apparent interest in, and fairly sophisticated
knowledge of, mathematics appears wholly new in this
dialogue. It is an interest, however, that shows up
plainly in the middle period dialogues, especially in
the middle books of the Republic.
arguments for the immortality of the soul, and the
idea that souls are reincarnated into different life
forms, are also featured in Plato's Phaedo
(which also includes the famous scene in which
Socrates drinks the hemlock and utters his last
words). Stylometry has tended to count the Phaedo
among the early dialogues, whereas analysis of
philosophical content has tended to place it at the
beginning of the middle period. Similar accounts of
the transmigration of souls may be found, with
somewhat different details, in Book X of the Republic
and in the Phaedrus, as well as in several
dialogues of the late period, including the Timaeus
and the Laws. No traces of the doctrine of
recollection, or the theory of reincarnation or
transmigration of souls, are to be found in the
dialogues we listed above as those of the early
d. Moral Psychology
psychology of the middle period dialogues also seems
to be quite different from what we find in the early
period. In the early dialogues, Plato's Socrates is an
intellectualist—that is, he claims that
people always act in the way they believe is best for
them (at the time of action, at any rate). Hence, all
wrongdoing reflects some cognitive error. But in the
middle period, Plato conceives of the soul as having
(at least) three parts:
- a rational
part (the part that loves truth, which should
rule over the other parts of the soul through the
use of reason),
- a spirited
part (which loves honor and victory), and
- an appetitive
part (which desires food, drink, and sex),
justice will be that condition of the soul in which
each of these three parts "does its own work," and
does not interfere in the workings of the other parts
(see esp. Republic IV.435b-445b). It seems
clear from the way Plato describes what can go wrong
in a soul, however, that in this new picture of moral
psychology, the appetitive part of the soul can simply
overrule reason's judgments. One may suffer, in this
account of psychology, from what is called akrasia
or "moral weakness"—in which one finds oneself
doing something that one actually believes is not the
right thing to do (see especially Republic
IV.439e-440b). In the early period, Socrates denied
that akrasia was possible: One might
change one's mind at the last minute about what one
ought to do—and could perhaps change one's mind again
later to regret doing what one has done—but one could
never do what one actually believed was wrong, at the
time of acting.
e. Critique of the Arts
also introduces Plato's notorious critique of the
visual and imitative arts. In the early period works,
Socrates contends that the poets lack wisdom, but he
also grants that they "say many fine things." In the Republic,
on the contrary, it seems that there is little that is
fine in poetry or any of the other fine arts. Most of
poetry and the other fine arts are to be censored out
of existence in the "noble state" (kallipolis)
Plato sketches in the Republic, as merely
imitating appearances (rather than realities), and as
arousing excessive and unnatural emotions and
appetites (see esp. Republic X.595b-608b).
f. Platonic Love
In the Symposium,
which is normally dated at the beginning of the
middle period, and in the Phaedrus, which
is dated at the end of the middle period or later yet,
Plato introduces his theory of erôs
(usually translated as "love"). Several passages and
images from these dialogues continued to show up in
Western culture—for example, the image of two lovers
as being each other's "other half," which Plato
assigns to Aristophanes in the Symposium.
Also in that dialogue, we are told of the "ladder of
love," by which the lover can ascend to direct
cognitive contact with (usually compared to a kind of
vision of) Beauty Itself. In the Phaedrus,
love is revealed to be the great "divine madness"
through which the wings of the lover's soul may
sprout, allowing the lover to take flight to all of
the highest aspirations and achievements possible for
humankind. In both of these dialogues, Plato clearly
regards actual physical or sexual contact between
lovers as degraded and wasteful forms of erotic
expression. Because the true goal of erôs
is real beauty and real beauty is the Form of Beauty,
what Plato calls Beauty Itself, erôs finds
its fulfillment only in Platonic philosophy. Unless it
channels its power of love into "higher pursuits,"
which culminate in the knowledge of the Form of
Beauty, erôs is doomed to frustration. For
this reason, Plato thinks that most people sadly
squander the real power of love by limiting themselves
to the mere pleasures of physical beauty.
7. Late Transitional and Late Dialogues
a. Philosophical Methodology
the novelties of the dialogues after those of the
middle period is the introduction of a new
philosophical method. This method was introduced
probably either late in the middle period or in the
transition to the late period, but was increasingly
important in the late period. In the early period
dialogues, as we have said, the mode of philosophizing
was refutative question-and-answer (called
elenchos or the "Socratic method"). Although
the middle period dialogues continue to show Socrates
asking questions, the questioning in these dialogues
becomes much more overtly leading and didactic. The
highest method of philosophizing discussed in the
middle period dialogues, called "dialectic," is never
very well explained (at best, it is just barely
sketched in the divided line image at the end of Book
VI of the Republic). The correct method for
doing philosophy, we are now told in the later works,
is what Plato identifies as "collection and division,"
which is perhaps first referred to at Phaedrus
265e. In this method, the philosopher collects all of
the instances of some generic category that seem to
have common characteristics, and then divides them
into specific kinds until they cannot be further
subdivided. This method is explicitly and extensively
on display in the Sophist, Statesman, and
b. Critique of the Earlier Theory of
the most puzzling features of the late dialogues is
the strong suggestion in them that Plato has
reconsidered his theory of Forms in some way. Although
there seems still in the late dialogues to be a theory
of Forms (although the theory is, quite strikingly,
wholly unmentioned in the Theaetetus, a
later dialogue on the nature of knowledge), where it
does appear in the later dialogues, it seems in
several ways to have been modified from its conception
in the middle period works. Perhaps the most dramatic
signal of such a change in the theory appears first in
the Parmenides, which appears to subject
the middle period version of the theory to a kind of
"Socratic" refutation, only this time, the main
refuter is the older Eleatic philosopher Parmenides,
and the hapless victim of the refutation is a youthful
Socrates. The most famous (and apparently fatal) of
the arguments provided by Parmenides in this dialogue
has come to be known as the "Third Man Argument,"
which suggests that the conception of participation
(by which individual objects take on the characters of
the Forms) falls prey to an infinite regress: If
individual male things are male in virtue of
participation in the Form of Man, and the Form of Man
is itself male, then what is common to both The Form
of Man and the particular male things must be that
they all participate in some (other) Form, say, Man 2.
But then, if Man 2 is male, then what it has in common
with the other male things is participation in some
further Form, Man 3, and so on. That Plato's theory is
open to this problem gains support from the notion,
mentioned above, that Forms are exemplars. If the Form
of Man is itself a (perfect) male, then the Form
shares a property in common with the males that
participate in it. But since the Theory requires that
for any group of entities with a common property,
there is a Form to explain the commonality, it appears
that the theory does indeed give rise to the vicious
been considerable controversy for many years over
whether Plato believed that the Theory of Forms was
vulnerable to the "Third Man" argument, as Aristotle
believed it was, and so uses the Parmenides
to announce his rejection of the Theory of Forms, or
instead believed that the Third Man argument can be
avoided by making adjustments to the Theory of Forms.
Of relevance to this discussion is the relative dating
of the Timaeus and the Parmenides,
since the Theory of Forms very much as it appears in
the middle period works plays a prominent role in the
Timaeus. Thus, the assignment of a later
date to the Timaeus shows that Plato did not
regard the objection to the Theory of Forms raised in
the Parmenides as in any way decisive. In
any event, it is agreed on all sides that Plato's
interest in the Theory shifted in the Sophist
and Stateman to the exploration of the
logical relations that hold between abstract entities.
In the Laws, Plato's last (and
unfinished) work, the Theory of Forms appears to have
dropped out altogether. Whatever value Plato believed
that knowledge of abstract entities has for the proper
conduct of philosophy, he no longer seems to have
believed that such knowledge is necessary for the
proper running of a political community.
c. The "Eclipse" of Socrates
several of the late dialogues, Socrates is even
further marginalized. He is either represented as a
mostly mute bystander (in the Sophist and
Statesman), or else absent altogether from
the cast of characters (in the Laws and
Critias). In the Theaetetus and
Philebus, however, we find Socrates in the
familiar leading role. The so-called "eclipse" of
Socrates in several of the later dialogues has been a
subject of much scholarly discussion.
d. The Myth of Atlantis
famous myth of Atlantis is first given in the
Timaeus, which scholars now generally agree
is quite late, despite being dramatically placed on
the day after the discussion recounted in the
Republic. The myth of Atlantis is continued
in the unfinished dialogue intended to be the sequel
to the Timaeus, the Critias.
e. The Creation of the
is also famous for its account of the creation of the
universe by the Demiurge. Unlike the creation by the
God of medieval theologians, Plato's Demiurge does not
create ex nihilo, but rather orders the
cosmos out of chaotic elemental matter, imitating the
eternal Forms. Plato takes the four elements, fire,
air, water, and earth (which Plato proclaims to be
composed of various aggregates of triangles), making
various compounds of these into what he calls the Body
of the Universe. Of all of Plato's works, the Timaeus
provides the most detailed conjectures in the areas we
now regard as the natural sciences: physics,
astronomy, chemistry, and biology.
f. The Laws
Laws, Plato's last work, the philosopher
returns once again to the question of how a society
ought best to be organized. Unlike his earlier
treatment in the Republic, however, the
Laws appears to concern itself less with what
a best possible state might be like, and much more
squarely with the project of designing a genuinely
practicable, if admittedly not ideal, form of
government. The founders of the community sketched in
the Laws concern themselves with the
empirical details of statecraft, fashioning rules to
meet the multitude of contingencies that are apt to
arise in the "real world" of human affairs. A work
enormous length and complexity, running some 345
Stephanus pages, the Laws was unfinished
at the time of Plato's death. According to Diogenes
Laertius (3.37), it was left written on wax tablets.
8. References and Further Reading
a. Greek Texts
Platonis Opera (in 5 volumes) - The Oxford
Classical Texts (Oxford: Oxford University Press):
I (E. A. Duke et al., eds., 1995):
Euthyphro, Apologia Socratis, Crito, Phaedo,
Cratylus, Theaetetus, Sophista, Politicus.
II (John Burnet, ed., 1901): Parmenides,
Philebus, Symposium, Phaedrus, Alcibiades I,
Alcibiades II, Hipparchus, Amatores.
III (John Burnet, ed., 1903): Theages,
Charmides, Laches, Lysis, Euthydemus, Protagoras,
Gorgias, Meno, Hippias Maior, Hippias Minor, Io,
IV (John Burnet, ed., 1978): Clitopho,
Respublica, Timaeus, Critias.
V (John Burnet, ed. 1907): Minos, Leges,
Epinomis, Epistulae, Definitiones, De Iusto, De
Virtute, Demodocus, Sisyphus, Eryxias, Axiochus.
Oxford Classical Texts are the standard Greek
texts of Plato's works, including all of the
spuria and dubia except
for the epigrams, the Greek texts of which may
be found in Hermann Beckby (ed.),
Anthologia Graeca (Munich: Heimeran,
b. Translations into English
J. M. (ed.), Plato: Complete Works
(Indianapolis: Hackett, 1997).
very recent translations of all of the Platonic
works, dubia, spuria, and epigrams.
Now generally regarded as the standard for
c. Plato's Socrates and the
Charles H., Plato and the Socratic Dialogue
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).
own version of the "unitarian" reading of
Plato's dialogues. Although scholars have not
widely accepted Kahn's positions, Kahn offers
several arguments for rejecting the more
established held "developmentalist" position.
Gregory, Socrates, Ironist and Moral
Philosopher (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press and Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell
University Press, 1991).
2 and 3 of this book are invariably cited as
providing the most influential recent arguments
for the "historicist" version of the
d. Socrates and Plato's Early Period
Hugh H. (ed.), Essays on the Philosophy of
Socrates (New York: Oxford University
collection of previously published articles by
various authors on Socrates and Plato's early
Thomas C. and Nicholas D. Smith, Plato's
Socrates (New York: Oxford University Press,
chapters, each on different topics in the study
of Plato's early or Socratic dialogues.
Thomas C. and Nicholas D. Smith, The
Philosophy of Socrates (Boulder: Westview,
chapters, each on different topics in the study
of Plato's early or Socratic dialogues. Some
changes in views from those offered in their
William (ed.), Socrates: Critical Assessments
(London and New York, 1996) in four volumes:
I: The Socratic Problem and Socratic
Ignorance; II: Issues Arising from
the Trial of Socrates; III: Socratic
Method; IV: Happiness and Virtue.
collection of previously published articles by
various authors on Socrates and Plato's early
Gerasimos Xenophon, Socrates: Philosophy in
Plato's Early Dialogues (Boston and London:
chapters, each on different topics in the study
of Plato's early or Socratic dialogues.
C. C. W. Socrates: A Very Short Introduction
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998).
short, indeed, but nicely written and generally
Gregory, Socrates, Ironist and Moral
Philosopher (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press and Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell
University Press, 1991). (Also cited in VIII.3,
chapters, each on different topics in the study
of Plato's early or Socratic dialogues.
Gregory, Socratic Studies (ed. Myles
Burnyeat; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
and published after Vlastos's death. A
collection of Vlastos's papers on Socrates not
published in Vlastos's 1991 book.
Gregory (ed.) The Philosophy of Socrates
(South Bend: University of Notre Dame Press, 1980).
collection of papers by various authors on
Socrates and Plato's early dialogues. Although
now somewhat dated, several articles in this
collection continue to be widely cited and
e. General Books on Plato
Harold, The Riddle of the Early Academy
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1945).
study of reports in the Early Academy, following
Plato's death, of the so-called "unwritten
doctrines" of Plato.
Gail (ed.), Plato I: Metaphysics and
Epistemology and Plato II: Ethics,
Politics, Religion and the Soul (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1999).
collection of previously published papers by
various authors, mostly on Plato's middle and
George, Plato and the Other Companions of
Sokrates 2nd ed. 3 vols. (London: J.
collection with general discussion of "the
Socratics" other than Plato, as well as specific
discussions of each of Plato's works.
W. K. C., A History of Greek Philosophy
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) vols. 3
(1969), 4 (1975) and 5 (1978).
3 is on the Sophists and Socrates; volume 4 is
on Plato's early dialogues and continues with
chapters on Phaedo, Symposium, and
Phaedrus, and then a final chapter
on the Republic.
Terence, Plato's Ethics (New York and
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995).
discussion of the ethical thought in Plato's
Richard (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to
Plato (Cambridge: Cambridge University
collection of original discussions of various
general topics about Plato and the dialogues.
Nicholas D. (ed.), Plato: Critical Assessments
(London and New York: Routledge, 1998) in four
volumes: I: General Issues of Interpretation;
II: Plato's Middle Period: Metaphysics
and Epistemology; III: Plato's Middle
Period: Psychology and Value Theory; IV:
Plato's Later Works.
collection of previously published articles by
various authors on interpretive problems and on
Plato's middle and later periods. Plato's early
period dialogues are covered in this series by
Prior 1996 (see VIII.4).
Gregory, Platonic Studies 2nd ed.
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981).
collection of Vlastos's papers on Plato,
including some important earlier work on the
Gregory, Plato I: Metaphysics and Epistemology
and Plato II: Ethics, Politics, and
Philosophy of Art and Religion (South Bend:
University of Notre Dame Press, 1987).
collection of papers by various authors on
Plato's middle period and later dialogues.
Although now somewhat dated, several articles in
this collection continue to be widely cited and
Brickhouse Email: email@example.com
Lynchburg College U. S. A. and
D. Smith Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Lewis & Clark College U. S. A.
Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy http://www.iep.utm.edu/aristotl/
Aristotle is a towering figure in ancient Greek
philosophy, making contributions to logic,
metaphysics, mathematics, physics, biology, botany, ethics,
politics, agriculture, medicine, dance and theatre. He
was a student of Plato who in
turn studied under Socrates. He was more
empirically-minded than Plato or Socrates and is famous
for rejecting Plato's theory of forms.
prolific writer and polymath, Aristotle radically
transformed most, if not all, areas of knowledge he
touched. It is no wonder that Aquinas
referred to him simply as "The Philosopher." In his
lifetime, Aristotle wrote as many as 200 treatises, of
which only 31 survive. Unfortunately for us, these works
are in the form of lecture notes and draft manuscripts
never intended for general readership, so they do not
demonstrate his reputed polished prose style which
attracted many great followers, including the Roman Cicero.
Aristotle was the first to classify areas of human
knowledge into distinct disciplines such as mathematics,
biology, and ethics. Some of these classifications are
still used today.
father of the field of logic, he was the first to
develop a formalized system for reasoning. Aristotle
observed that the validity of any argument can be
determined by its structure rather than its content. A
classic example of a valid argument is his syllogism:
All men are mortal; Socrates is a man; therefore,
Socrates is mortal. Given the structure of this
argument, as long as the premises are true, then the
conclusion is also guaranteed to be true. Aristotle’s
brand of logic dominated this area of thought until the
rise of modern propositional
logic and predicate logic 2000 years later.
emphasis on good reasoning combined with his belief in
the scientific method forms the backdrop for most of his
work. For example, in his work in ethics and politics,
Aristotle identifies the highest good with intellectual
virtue; that is, a moral person is one who cultivates
certain virtues based on reasoning. And in his work on
psychology and the soul, Aristotle distinguishes sense
perception from reason, which unifies and interprets the
sense perceptions and is the source of all knowledge.
famously rejected Plato’s theory of forms, which states
that properties such as beauty are abstract universal
entities that exist independent of the objects
themselves. Instead, he argued that forms are intrinsic
to the objects and cannot exist apart from them, and so
must be studied in relation to them. However, in
discussing art, Aristotle seems to reject this, and
instead argues for idealized universal form which
artists attempt to capture in their work.
was the founder of the Lyceum, a
school of learning based in Athens, Greece; and he was
an inspiration for the Peripatetics,
his followers from the Lyceum.
- The Soul
- Art and
was born in 384 BCE at Stagirus, a now extinct Greek
colony and seaport on the coast of Thrace. His father
Nichomachus was court physician to King Amyntas of
Macedonia, and from this began Aristotle's long
association with the Macedonian Court, which
considerably influenced his life. While he was still a
boy his father died. At age 17 his guardian, Proxenus,
sent him to Athens, the intellectual center of the
world, to complete his education. He joined the Academy
and studied under Plato,
attending his lectures for a period of twenty years. In
the later years of his association with Plato and the
Academy he began to lecture on his own account,
especially on the subject of rhetoric. At the death of
Plato in 347, the pre-eminent ability of Aristotle would
seem to have designated him to succeed to the leadership
of the Academy. But his divergence from Plato's teaching
was too great to make this possible, and Plato's nephew
Speusippus was chosen instead. At the invitation of his
friend Hermeas, ruler of Atarneus and Assos in Mysia,
Aristotle left for his court. He stayed three year and,
while there, married Pythias, the niece of the King. In
later life he was married a second time to a woman named
Herpyllis, who bore him a son, Nichomachus. At the end
of three years Hermeas was overtaken by the Persians,
and Aristotle went to Mytilene. At the invitation of
Philip of Macedonia he became the tutor of his 13 year
old son Alexander (later world conqueror); he did this
for the next five years. Both Philip and Alexander
appear to have paid Aristotle high honor, and there were
stories that Aristotle was supplied by the Macedonian
court, not only with funds for teaching, but also with
thousands of slaves to collect specimens for his studies
in natural science. These stories are probably false and
death of Philip, Alexander succeeded to the kingship and
prepared for his subsequent conquests. Aristotle's work
being finished, he returned to Athens, which he had not
visited since the death of Plato. He found the Platonic
school flourishing under Xenocrates, and Platonism the
dominant philosophy of Athens. He thus set up his own
school at a place called the Lyceum. When
teaching at the Lyceum, Aristotle had a habit of walking
about as he discoursed. It was in connection with this
that his followers became known in later years as
the peripatetics, meaning "to walk about."
For the next thirteen years he devoted his energies to
his teaching and composing his philosophical treatises.
He is said to have given two kinds of lectures: the more
detailed discussions in the morning for an inner circle
of advanced students, and the popular discourses in the
evening for the general body of lovers of knowledge. At
the sudden death of Alexander in 323 BCE., the
pro-Macedonian government in Athens was overthrown, and
a general reaction occurred against anything Macedonian.
A charge of impiety was trumped up against him. To
escape prosecution he fled to Chalcis in Euboea so that
(Aristotle says) "The Athenians might not have another
opportunity of sinning against philosophy as they had
already done in the person of Socrates." In the first
year of his residence at Chalcis he complained of a
stomach illness and died in 322 BCE.
reported that Aristotle's writings were held by his
student Theophrastus, who had succeeded Aristotle in
leadership of the Peripatetic School. Theophrastus's
library passed to his pupil Neleus. To protect the books
from theft, Neleus's heirs concealed them in a vault,
where they were damaged somewhat by dampness, moths and
worms. In this hiding place they were discovered about
100 BCE by Apellicon, a rich book lover, and brought to
Athens. They were later taken to Rome after the capture
of Athens by Sulla in 86 BCE. In Rome they soon
attracted the attention of scholars, and the new edition
of them gave fresh impetus to the study of Aristotle and
of philosophy in general. This collection is the basis
of the works of Aristotle that we have today. Strangely,
the list of Aristotle's works given by Diogenes
Laertius does not contain any of these treatises.
It is possible that Diogenes' list is that of forgeries
compiled at a time when the real works were lost to
of Aristotle fall under three headings: (1) dialogues
and other works of a popular character; (2) collections
of facts and material from scientific treatment; and (3)
systematic works. Among his writings of a popular nature
the only one which we possess of any consequence is the
interesting tract On the Polity of the
Athenians. The works on the second group include
200 titles, most in fragments, collected by Aristotle's
school and used as research. Some may have been done at
the time of Aristotle's successor Theophrastus. Included
in this group are constitutions of 158 Greek states. The
systematic treatises of the third group are marked by a
plainness of style, with none of the golden flow of
language which the ancients praised in Aristotle. This
may be due to the fact that these works were not, in
most cases, published by Aristotle himself or during his
lifetime, but were edited after his death from
unfinished manuscripts. Until Werner Jaeger (1912) it
was assumed that Aristotle's writings presented a
systematic account of his views. Jaeger argues for an
early, middle and late period (genetic approach), where
the early period follows Plato's theory of forms and
soul, the middle rejects Plato, and the later period
(which includes most of his treatises) is more
empirically oriented. Aristotle's systematic treatises
may be grouped in several divisions:
(10 classifications of terms)
Interpretation (propositions, truth, modality)
Analytics (syllogistic logic)
Analytics (scientific method and syllogism)
(rules for effective arguments and debate)
Sophistical Refutations (informal fallacies)
(explains change, motion, void, time)
the Heavens (structure of heaven, earth, elements)
Generation (through combining material
(origin of comets, weather, disasters)
the Soul (explains faculties, senses, mind,
Memory, Reminiscence, Dreams, and Prophesying
- Works on
of Animals (physical/mental qualities, habits)
the parts of Animals
the Movement of Animals
the Progression of Animals
the Generation of Animals
(substance, cause, form, potentiality)
Ethics (soul, happiness, virtue, friendship)
(best states, utopias, constitutions, revolutions)
(elements of forensic and political debate)
(tragedy, epic poetry)
writings on the general subject of logic were grouped by
the later Peripatetics under the name Organon,
or instrument. From their perspective, logic and
reasoning was the chief preparatory instrument of
scientific investigation. Aristotle himself, however,
uses the term "logic" as equivalent to verbal reasoning.
The Categories of Aristotle are
classifications of individual words (as opposed to
sentences or propositions),
and include the following ten: substance, quantity,
quality, relation, place, time, situation, condition,
action, passion. They seem to be arranged according to
the order of the questions we would ask in gaining
knowledge of an object. For example, we ask, first, what
a thing is, then how great it is, next of what kind it
is. Substance is always regarded as the most important
of these. Substances are further divided into first and
second: first substances are individual
objects; second substances are the species
in which first substances or individuals inhere.
when isolated do not in themselves express either truth
or falsehood: it is only with the combination of ideas
in a proposition that truth and falsity
are possible. The elements of such a proposition are the
noun substantive and the verb. The combination of words
gives rise to rational speech and thought, conveys a
meaning both in its parts and as a whole. Such thought
may take many forms, but logic considers only demonstrative
forms which express truth and falsehood. The truth or
falsity of propositions is determined by their agreement
or disagreement with the facts they represent. Thus
propositions are either affirmative or negative, each of
which again may be either universal or particular or
undesignated. A definition, for Aristotle is a statement
of the essential character of a subject, and involves
both the genus and the difference. To get at a true
definition we must find out those qualities within the
genus which taken separately are wider than the subject
to be defined, but taken together are precisely equal to
it. For example, "prime," "odd," and "number" are each
wider than "triplet" (that is, a collection of any three
items, such as three rocks); but taken together they are
just equal to it. The genus definition must be formed so
that no species is left out. Having determined the genus
and species, we must next find the points of similarity
in the species separately and then consider the common
characteristics of different species. Definitions may be
imperfect by (1) being obscure, (2) by being too wide,
or (3) by not stating the essential and fundamental
attributes. Obscurity may arise from the use of
equivocal expressions, of metaphorical phrases, or of
eccentric words. The heart of Aristotle's logic is the
syllogism, the classic example of which is as follows:
All men are mortal; Socrates is a man; therefore,
Socrates is mortal. The syllogistic form of logical
argumentation dominated logic for 2,000 years until the
rise of modern propositional and predicate logic thanks
to Frege, Russell, and others.
editors gave the name "Metaphysics" to his works
on first philosophy, either because they
went beyond or followed after
his physical investigations. Aristotle begins by
sketching the history of philosophy. For Aristotle,
philosophy arose historically after basic necessities
were secured. It grew out of a feeling of curiosity and
wonder, to which religious myth gave only provisional
satisfaction. The earliest speculators (i.e. Thales,
Anaximenes, Anaximander) were philosophers of nature.
The Pythagoreans succeeded these with mathematical
abstractions. The level of pure thought was reached
partly in the Eleatic philosophers (such as Parmenides)
and Anaxagoras, but more completely in the work of
Socrates. Socrates' contribution was the expression of
general conceptions in the form of definitions, which he
arrived at by induction and analogy. For Aristotle, the
subject of metaphysics deals with the first principles
of scientific knowledge and the ultimate conditions of
all existence. More specifically, it deals with
existence in its most fundamental state (i.e.
being as being), and the essential
attributes of existence. This can be contrasted with
mathematics which deals with existence in terms of lines
or angles, and not existence as it is in itself. In its
universal character, metaphysics superficially resembles
dialectics and sophistry. However, it differs from
dialectics which is tentative, and it differs from
sophistry which is a pretence of knowledge without the
of science fall under the consideration of the
metaphysician insofar as they are properties ofall
existence. Aristotle argues that there are a handful of
universal truths. Against the followers of Heraclitus
and Protagoras, Aristotle defends both the laws of
contradiction, and that of excluded middle. He does this
by showing that their denial is suicidal. Carried out to
its logical consequences, the denial of these laws would
lead to the sameness of all facts and all assertions. It
would also result in an indifference in conduct. As the
science of being as being, the leading
question of Aristotle's metaphysics is, What is meant by
the real or true substance? Plato tried to solve the
same question by positing a universal and invariable
element of knowledge and existence -- the forms -- as
the only real permanent besides the changing phenomena
of the senses. Aristotle attacks Plato's theory of the
forms on three different grounds.
Aristotle argues, forms are powerless to explain changes
of things and a thing's ultimate extinction. Forms are
not causes of movement and alteration in the physical
objects of sensation. Second, forms are
equally incompetent to explain how we arrive at knowledge
of particular things. For, to have knowledge of a
particular object, it must be knowledge of the substance
which is in that things. However, the
forms place knowledge outside of particular things.
Further, to suppose that we know particular things
better by adding on their general conceptions of their
forms, is about as absurd as to imagine that we can
count numbers better by multiplying them. Finally, if
forms were needed to explain our knowledge of particular
objects, then forms must be used to explain our
knowledge of objects of art; however, Platonists do not
recognize such forms. The third ground of
attack is that the forms simply cannot explain the existence
of particular objects. Plato contends that forms do not
exist in the particular objects which
partake in the forms. However, that substance of a
particular thing cannot be separated from the thing
itself. Further, aside from the jargon of
"participation," Plato does not explain the relation
between forms and particular things. In reality, it is
merely metaphorical to describe the forms as patterns of
things; for, what is a genus to one object is a species
to a higher class, the same idea will have to be both a
form and a particular thing at the same time. Finally,
on Plato's account of the forms, we must imagine an
intermediate link between the form and the particular
object, and so on ad infinitum: there must
always be a "third man" between the individual man and
the form of man.
Aristotle, the form is not something outside the object,
but rather in the varied phenomena of
sense. Real substance, or true being, is not the
abstract form, but rather the concrete
individual thing. Unfortunately, Aristotle's theory of
substance is not altogether consistent with itself. In
the Categories the notion of substance
tends to be nominalistic (that is, substance is a
concept we apply to things). In theMetaphysics,
though, it frequently inclines towards realism (that is,
substance has a real existence in itself). We are also
struck by the apparent contradiction in his claims that
science deals with universal concepts, and substance is
declared to be an individual. In any case, substance is
for him a merging of matter into form. The term "matter"
is used by Aristotle in four overlapping senses. First,
it is the underlying structure of changes, particularly
changes of growth and of decay. Secondly,
it is the potential which has implicitly the capacity to
develop into reality. Thirdly, it is a
kind of stuff without specific qualities and so is
indeterminate and contingent. Fourthly, it
is identical with form when it takes on a form in its
actualized and final phase.
development of potentiality to actuality is one of the
most important aspects of Aristotle's philosophy. It was
intended to solve the difficulties which earlier
thinkers had raised with reference to the beginnings of
existence and the relations of the one and many. The
actual vs. potential state of things is explained in
terms of the causes which act on things. There are four
cause, or the elements out of which an
object is created;
cause, or the means by which it is
cause, or the expression of what it is;
cause, or the end for which it is.
example, a bronze statue. Its material cause is the
bronze itself. Its efficient cause is the sculptor,
insofar has he forces the bronze into shape. The formal
cause is the idea of the completed statue. The final
cause is the idea of the statue as it prompts
the sculptor to act on the bronze. The final cause tends
to be the same as the formal cause, and both of these
can be subsumed by the efficient cause. Of the four, it
is the formal and final which is the most important, and
which most truly gives the explanation of an object. The
final end (purpose, or teleology) of a thing is realized
in the full perfection of the object itself, not in our
conception of it. Final cause is thus internal to the
nature of the object itself, and not something we
subjectively impose on it.
is the first of all substances, the necessary first
source of movement who is himself unmoved. God is a
being with everlasting life, and perfect blessedness,
engaged in never-ending contemplation.
fuller discussion, see the article Aristotle's
Metaphysics and Western
Concepts of God.
Philosophy of Nature
sees the universe as a scale lying between the two
extremes: form without matter is on one end, and matter
without form is on the other end. The passage of matter
into form must be shown in its various stages in the
world of nature. To do this is the object of Aristotle's
physics, or philosophy of nature. It is important to
keep in mind that the passage from form to matter within
nature is a movement towards ends or purposes.
Everything in nature has its end and function, and
nothing is without its purpose. Everywhere we find
evidences of design and rational plan. No doctrine of
physics can ignore the fundamental notions of motion,
space, and time. Motion is the passage of matter into
form, and it is of four kinds: (1) motion which affects
the substance of a thing, particularly its beginning and
its ending; (2) motion which brings about changes in
quality; (3) motion which brings about changes in
quantity, by increasing it and decreasing it; and (4)
motion which brings about locomotion, or change of
place. Of these the last is the most fundamental and
rejects the definition of space as the void. Empty space
is an impossibility. Hence, too, he disagrees with the
view of Plato and the Pythagoreans that the elements are
composed of geometrical figures. Space is defined as the
limit of the surrounding body towards what is
is defined as the measure of motion in regard to what is
earlier and later. It thus depends for its existence
upon motion. If there where no change in the universe,
there would be no time. Since it is the measuring or
counting of motion, it also depends for its existence on
a counting mind. If there were no mind to count, there
could be no time. As to the infinite divisibility of
space and time, and the paradoxes proposed byZeno,
Aristotle argues that space and time are potentially
divisible ad infinitum, but are not
actually so divided.
preliminaries, Aristotle passes to the main subject of
physics, the scale of being. The first thing to notice
about this scale is that it is a scale of values. What
is higher on the scale of being is of more worth,
because the principle of form is more advanced in it.
Species on this scale are eternally fixed in their
place, and cannot evolve over time. The higher items on
the scale are also more organized. Further, the lower
items are inorganic and the higher are organic. The
principle which gives internal organization to the
higher or organic items on the scale of being is life,
or what he calls the soul of the organism. Even the
human soul is nothing but the organization of the body.
Plants are the lowest forms of life on the scale, and
their souls contain a nutritive element by which it
preserves itself. Animals are above plants on the scale,
and their souls contain an appetitive feature which
allows them to have sensations, desires, and thus gives
them the ability to move. The scale of being proceeds
from animals to humans. The human soul shares the
nutritive element with plants, and the appetitive
element with animals, but also has a rational element
which is distinctively our own. The details of the
appetitive and rational aspects of the soul are
described in the following two sections.
fuller discussion of these topics, see the article Aristotle:
Motion and its Place in Nature.
The Soul and Psychology
is defined by Aristotle as the perfect expression or
realization of a natural body. From this definition it
follows that there is a close connection between
psychological states, and physiological processes. Body
and soul are unified in the same way that wax and an
impression stamped on it are unified. Metaphysicians
before Aristotle discussed the soul abstractly without
any regard to the bodily environment; this, Aristotle
believes, was a mistake. At the same time, Aristotle
regards the soul or mind not as the product of the
physiological conditions of the body, but as the truth
of the body -- the substance in which only the bodily
conditions gain their real meaning.
manifests its activity in certain "faculties" or "parts"
which correspond with the stages of biological
development, and are the faculties of nutrition
(peculiar to plants), that of movement (peculiar to
animals), and that of reason (peculiar to humans). These
faculties resemble mathematical figures in which the
higher includes the lower, and must be understood not as
like actual physical parts, but like suchaspects
as convex and concave which we distinguish in the same
line. The mind remains throughout a unity: and it is
absurd to speak of it, as Plato did, as desiring with
one part and feeling anger with another. Sense
perception is a faculty of receiving the forms of
outward objects independently of the matter of which
they are composed, just as the wax takes on the figure
of the seal without the gold or other metal of which the
seal is composed. As the subject of impression,
perception involves a movement and a kind of qualitative
change; but perception is not merely a passive or
receptive affection. It in turn acts, and,distinguishing
between the qualities of outward things, becomes "a
movement of the soul through the medium of the body."
of the senses may be either (1) special, (such as color
is the special object of sight, and sound of hearing),
(2) common, or apprehended by several senses in
combination (such as motion or figure), or (3)
incidental or inferential (such as when from the
immediate sensation of white we come to know a person
or object which is white). There are five
special senses. Of these, touch is the must rudimentary,
hearing the most instructive, and sight the most
ennobling. The organ in these senses never acts directly
, but is affected by some medium such as air. Even
touch, which seems to act by actual contact, probably
involves some vehicle of communication. For Aristotle,
the heart is the common or central sense organ. It
recognizes the common qualities which are involved in
all particular objects of sensation. It is, first, the
sense which brings us a consciousness of sensation.
Secondly, in one act before the mind, it holds up the
objects of our knowledge and enables us to distinguish
between the reports of different senses.
defines the imagination as "the movement which results
upon an actual sensation." In other words, it is the
process by which an impression of the senses is pictured
and retained before the mind, and is accordingly the
basis of memory. The representative pictures which it
provides form the materials of reason. Illusions and
dreams are both alike due to an excitement in the organ
of sense similar to that which would be caused by the
actual presence of the sensible phenomenon. Memory is
defined as the permanent possession of the sensuous
picture as a copy which represents the object of which
it is a picture. Recollection, or the calling back to
mind the residue of memory, depends on the laws which
regulate the association of our ideas. We trace the
associations by starting with the thought of the object
present to us, then considering what is similar,
contrary or contiguous.
the source of the first principles of knowledge. Reason
is opposed to the sense insofar as sensations are
restricted and individual, and thought is free and
universal. Also, while the senses deals with the
concrete and material aspect of phenomena, reason deals
with the abstract and ideal aspects. But while reason is
in itself the source of general ideas, it is so only
potentially. For, it arrives at them only by a process
of development in which it gradually clothes sense in
thought, and unifies and interprets sense-presentations.
This work of reason in thinking beings suggests the
question: How can immaterial thought come to receive
material things? It is only possible in virtue of
some community between thought and things.
Aristotle recognizes an active reason which makes
objects of thought. This is distinguished from passive
reason which receives, combines and compares the objects
of thought. Active reason makes the world intelligible,
and bestows on the materials of knowledge those ideas or
categories which make them accessible to thought. This
is just as the sun communicates to material objects that
light, without which color would be invisible, and sight
would have no object. Hence reason is the constant
support of an intelligible world. While assigning reason
to the soul of humans, Aristotle describes it as coming
from without, and almost seems to identify it with God
as the eternal and omnipresent thinker. Even in humans,
in short, reason realizes something of the essential
characteristic of absolute thought -- the unity of
thought as subject with thought as object.
viewed by Aristotle, is an attempt to find out our chief
end or highest good: an end which he maintains is really
final. Though many ends of life are only means to
further ends, our aspirations and desires must have some
final object or pursuit. Such a chief end is universally
called happiness. But people mean such different things
by the expression that he finds it necessary to discuss
the nature of it for himself. For starters, happiness
must be based on human nature, and must begin from the
facts of personal experience. Thus, happiness cannot be
found in any abstract or ideal notion, like Plato's
self-existing good. It must be something practical and
human. It must then be found in the work and life which
is unique to humans. But this is neither the vegetative
life we share with plants nor the sensitive existence
which we share with animals. It follows therefore that
true happiness lies in the active life of a rational
being or in a perfect realization and outworking of the
true soul and self, continued throughout a lifetime.
expands his notion of happiness through an analysis of
the human soul which structures and animates a living
human organism. The parts of the soul are divided as
|Calculative -- Intellectual
-- Moral Virtue
-- Nutritional Virtue
soul has an irrational element which is shared with the
animals, and a rational element which is distinctly
human. The most primitive irrational element is the
vegetative faculty which is responsible for nutrition
and growth. An organism which does this well may be said
to have a nutritional virtue. The second tier of the
soul is the appetitive faculty which is responsible for
our emotions and desires (such as joy, grief, hope and
fear). This faculty is both rational and irrational. It
is irrational since even animals experience desires.
However, it is also rational since humans have the
distinct ability to control these desires with the help
of reason. The human ability to properly control these
desires is called moral virtue, and is the focus of
morality. Aristotle notes that there is a purely
rational part of the soul, the calculative, which is
responsible for the human ability to contemplate, reason
logically, and formulate scientific principles. The
mastery of these abilities is called intellectual
continues by making several general points about the
nature of moral virtues (i.e. desire-regulating
virtues). First, he argues that the ability to regulate
our desires is not instinctive, but learned and is the
outcome of both teaching and practice. Second, he notes
that if we regulate our desires either too much or too
little, then we create problems. As an analogy,
Aristotle comments that, either "excess or deficiency of
gymnastic exercise is fatal to strength." Third, he
argues that desire-regulating virtues are character
traits, and are not to be understood as either emotions
or mental faculties.
The core of
Aristotle's account of moral virtue is his doctrine of
the mean. According to this doctrine, moral virtues are
desire-regulating character traits which are at a mean
between more extreme character traits (or vices). For
example, in response to the natural emotion of fear, we
should develop the virtuous character trait of courage.
If we develop an excessive character trait by curbing
fear too much, then we are said to be rash, which is a
vice. If, on the other extreme, we develop a deficient
character trait by curbing fear too little, then we are
said to be cowardly, which is also a vice. The virtue of
courage, then, lies at the mean between the excessive
extreme of rashness, and the deficient extreme of
cowardice. Aristotle is quick to point out that the
virtuous mean is not a strict mathematical mean between
two extremes. For example, if eating 100 apples is too
many, and eating zero apples is too little, this does
not imply that we should eat 50 apples, which is the
mathematical mean. Instead, the mean is rationally
determined, based on the relative merits of the
situation. That is, it is "as a prudent man would
determine it." He concludes that it is difficult to live
the virtuous life primarily because it is often
difficult to find the mean between the extremes.
virtues, and not just courage, are to be understood as
falling at the mean between two accompanying vices. His
list may be represented by the following table:
|Vice of Deficiency
||Vice of Excess
prominent virtue of this list is high-mindedness, which,
as being a kind of ideal self-respect, is regarded as
the crown of all the other virtues, depending on them
for its existence, and itself in turn tending to
intensify their force. The list seems to be more a
deduction from the formula than a statement of the facts
on which the formula itself depends, and Aristotle
accordingly finds language frequently inadequate to
express the states of excess or defect which his theory
involves (for example in dealing with the virtue of
ambition). Throughout the list he insists on the
"autonomy of will" as indispensable to virtue: courage
for instance is only really worthy of the name when done
from a love of honor and duty: munificence again becomes
vulgarity when it is not exercised from a love of what
is right and beautiful, but for displaying wealth.
used both in a general and in a special sense. In its
general sense it is equivalent to the observance of law.
As such it is the same thing as virtue, differing only
insofar as virtue exercises the disposition simply in
the abstract, and justice applies it in dealings with
people. Particular justice displays itself in two forms.
First, distributive justice hands out
honors and rewards according to the merits of the
recipients. Second, corrective justice
takes no account of the position of the parties
concerned, but simply secures equality between the two
by taking away from the advantage of the one and adding
it to the disadvantage of the other. Strictly speaking,
distributive and corrective justice are more than mere
retaliation and reciprocity. However, in concrete
situations of civil life, retaliation and reciprocity is
an adequate formula since such circumstances involve
money, depending on a relation between producer and
consumer. Since absolute justice is abstract in nature,
in the real world it must be supplemented with equity,
which corrects and modifies the laws of justice where it
falls short. Thus, morality requires a standard which
will not only regulate the inadequacies of absolute
justice but be also an idea of moral progress.
of morality is given by the faculty of moral insight.
The truly good person is at the same time a person of
perfect insight, and a person of perfect insight is also
perfectly good. Our idea of the ultimate end of moral
action is developed through habitual experience, and
this gradually frames itself out of particular
perceptions. It is the job of reason to apprehend and
organize these particular perceptions. However, moral
action is never the result of a mere act of the
understanding, nor is it the result of a simple desire
which views objects merely as things which produce pain
or pleasure. We start with a rational conception of what
is advantageous, but this conception is in itself
powerless without the natural impulse which will give it
strength. The will or purpose implied by morality is
thus either reason stimulated to act by desire, or
desire guided and controlled by understanding. These
factors then motivate the willful action. Freedom of the
will is a factor with both virtuous choices and vicious
choices. Actions are involuntary only when another
person forces our action, or if we are ignorant of
important details in actions. Actions are voluntary when
the originating cause of action (either virtuous or
vicious) lies in ourselves.
weakness of the will results in someone does what is
wrong, knowing that it is right, and yet follows his
desire against reason. For Aristotle, this condition is
not a myth, as Socrates supposed it was. The problem is
a matter of conflicting moral principles. Moral action
may be represented as a syllogism in which a general
principle of morality forms the first (i.e. major)
premise, while the particular application is the second
(i.e. minor) premise. The conclusion, though, which is
arrived at through speculation, is not always carried
out in practice. The moral syllogism is not simply a
matter of logic, but involves psychological drives and
desires. Desires can lead to a minor premise being
applied to one rather than another of two major premises
existing in the agent's mind. Animals, on the other
hand, cannot be called weak willed or incontinent since
such a conflict of principles is not possible with them.
not to be identified with Good. Pleasure is found in the
consciousness of free spontaneous action. It is an
invisible experience, like vision, and is always present
when a perfect organ acts upon a perfect object.
Pleasures accordingly differ in kind, varying along with
the different value of the functions of which they are
the expression. They are determined ultimately by the
judgment of "the good person." Our chief end is the
perfect development of our true nature; it thus must be
particularly found in the realization of our highest
faculty, that is, reason. It is this in fact which
constitutes our personality, and we would not be
pursuing our own life, but the life of some lower being,
if we followed any other aim. Self-love accordingly may
be said to be the highest law of morals, because while
such self-love may be understood as the selfishness
which gratifies a person's lower nature, it may also be,
and is rightly, the love of that higher and rational
nature which constitutes each person's true self. Such a
life of thought is further recommended as that which is
most pleasant, most self-sufficient, most continuous,
and most consonant with our purpose. It is also that
which is most akin to the life of God: for God cannot be
conceived as practising the ordinary moral virtues and
must therefore find his happiness in contemplation.
is an indispensable aid in framing for ourselves the
higher moral life; if not itself a virtue, it is at
least associated with virtue, and it proves itself of
service in almost all conditions of our existence. Such
results, however, are to be derived not from the worldly
friendships of utility or pleasure, but only from those
which are founded on virtue. The true friend is in fact
a second self, and the true moral value of friendship
lies in the fact that the friend presents to us a mirror
of good actions, and so intensifies our consciousness
and our appreciation of life.
fuller discussion of these topics, see the article Aristotle's
does not regard politics as a separate science from
ethics, but as the completion, and almost a verification
of it. The moral ideal in political administration is
only a different aspect of that which also applies to
individual happiness. Humans are by nature social
beings, and the possession of rational speech (logos) in
itself leads us to social union. The state is a
development from the family through the village
community, an offshoot of the family. Formed originally
for the satisfaction of natural wants, it exists
afterwards for moral ends and for the promotion of the
higher life. The state in fact is no mere local union
for the prevention of wrong doing, and the convenience
of exchange. It is also no mere institution for the
protection of goods and property. It is a genuine moral
organization for advancing the development of humans.
which is chronologically prior to the state, involves a
series of relations between husband and wife, parent and
child, master and slave. Aristotle regards the slave as
a piece of live property having no existence except in
relation to his master. Slavery is a natural institution
because there is a ruling and a subject class among
people related to each other as soul to body; however,
we must distinguish between those who are slaves by
nature, and those who have become slaves merely by war
and conquest. Household management involves the
acquisition of riches, but must be distinguished from
money-making for its own sake. Wealth is everything
whose value can be measured by money; but it is the use
rather than the possession of commodities which
exchange first involved bartering. However, with the
difficulties of transmission between countries widely
separated from each other, money as a currency arose. At
first it was merely a specific amount of weighted or
measured metal. Afterwards it received a stamp to mark
the amount. Demand is the real standard of value.
Currency, therefore, is merely a convention which
represents the demand; it stands between the producer
and the recipient and secures fairness. Usury is an
unnatural and reprehensible use of money.
communal ownership of wives and property as sketched by
Plato in the Republic rests on a false
conception of political society. For, the state is not a
homogeneous unity, as Plato believed, but rather is made
up of dissimilar elements. The classification of
constitutions is based on the fact that government may
be exercised either for the good of the governed or of
the governing, and may be either concentrated in one
person or shared by a few or by the many. There are thus
three true forms of government: monarchy, aristocracy,
and constitutional republic. The perverted forms of
these are tyranny, oligarchy and democracy. The
difference between the last two is not that democracy is
a government of the many, and oligarchy of the few;
instead, democracy is the state of the poor, and
oligarchy of the rich. Considered in the abstract, these
six states stand in the following order of preference:
monarchy, aristocracy, constitutional republic,
democracy, oligarchy, tyranny. But though with a perfect
person monarchy would be the highest form of government,
the absence of such people puts it practically out of
consideration. Similarly, true aristocracy is hardly
ever found in its uncorrupted form. It is in the
constitution that the good person and the good citizen
coincide. Ideal preferences aside, then, the
constitutional republic is regarded as the best attainable
form of government, especially as it secures that
predominance of a large middle class, which is the chief
basis of permanence in any state. With the spread of
population, democracy is likely to become the general
form of government.
the best state is a question that cannot be directly
answered. Different races are suited for different forms
of government, and the question which meets the
politician is not so much what is abstractly the best
state, but what is the best state under existing
circumstances. Generally, however, the best state will
enable anyone to act in the best and live in the
happiest manner. To serve this end the ideal state
should be neither too great nor too small, but simply
self-sufficient. It should occupy a favorable position
towards land and sea and consist of citizens gifted with
the spirit of the northern nations, and the intelligence
of the Asiatic nations. It should further take
particular care to exclude from government all those
engaged in trade and commerce; "the best state will not
make the "working man" a citizen; it should provide
support religious worship; it should secure morality
through the educational influences of law and early
training. Law, for Aristotle, is the outward expression
of the moral ideal without the bias of human feeling. It
is thus no mere agreement or convention, but a moral
force coextensive with all virtue. Since it is universal
in its character, it requires modification and
adaptation to particular circumstances through equity.
should be guided by legislation to make it correspond
with the results of psychological analysis, and follow
the gradual development of the bodily and mental
faculties. Children should during their earliest years
be carefully protected from all injurious associations,
and be introduced to such amusements as will prepare
them for the serious duties of life. Their literary
education should begin in their seventh year, and
continue to their twenty-first year. This period is
divided into two courses of training, one from age seven
to puberty, and the other from puberty to age
twenty-one. Such education should not be left to private
enterprise, but should be undertaken by the state. There
are four main branches of education: reading and
writing, Gymnastics, music, and painting. They should
not be studied to achieve a specific aim, but in the
liberal spirit which creates true freemen. Thus, for
example, gymnastics should not be pursued by itself
exclusively, or it will result in a harsh savage type of
character. Painting must not be studied merely to
prevent people from being cheated in pictures, but to
make them attend to physical beauty. Music must not be
studied merely for amusement, but for the moral
influence which it exerts on the feelings. Indeed all
true education is, as Plato saw, a training of our
sympathies so that we may love and hate in a right
fuller discussion of these topics, see the article Aristotle's
Art and Poetics
defined by Aristotle as the realization in external form
of a true idea, and is traced back to that natural love
of imitation which characterizes humans, and to the
pleasure which we feel in recognizing likenesses. Art
however is not limited to mere copying. It idealizes
nature and completes its deficiencies: it seeks to grasp
the universal type in the individual phenomenon. The
distinction therefore between poetic art and history is
not that the one uses meter, and the other does not. The
distinction is that while history is limited to what has
actually happened, poetry depicts things in their
universal character. And, therefore, "poetry is more
philosophical and more elevated than history." Such
imitation may represent people either as better or as
worse than people usually are, or it may neither go
beyond nor fall below the average standard. Comedy is
the imitation of the worse examples of humanity,
understood however not in the sense of absolute badness,
but only in so far as what is low and ignoble enters
into what is laughable and comic.
the other hand, is the representation of a serious or
meaningful, rounded or finished, and more or less
extended or far-reaching action -- a representation
which is effected by action and not mere narration. It
is fitted by portraying events which excite fear and
pity in the mind of the observer to purify or purge
these feelings and extend and regulate their sympathy.
It is thus a homeopathic curing of the passions. Insofar
as art in general universalizes particular events,
tragedy, in depicting passionate and critical
situations, takes the observer outside the selfish and
individual standpoint, and views them in connection with
the general lot of human beings. This is similar to
Aristotle's explanation of the use of orgiastic music in
the worship of Bacchas and other deities: it affords an
outlet for religious fervor and thus steadies one's
discussion of poetics and dramatic literature, see the
discussion of Aristotle's views on biology, see the
Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Aristotle's School, a painting from
the 1880s by Gustav Adolph Spangenberg
school was a school of philosophy in Ancient Greece.
derived from its founder, the Greek
philosopher, Aristotle, and peripatetic
is an adjective ascribed to his followers. The school
originally derived its name Peripatos (Greek: Περίπατος) from the peripatoi
(περίπατοι, "colonnades") of the Lyceum in Athens where the members met. A
similar Greek word peripatetikos (περιπατητικός)
refers to the act of walking, and as an adjective,
"peripatetic" is often used to mean itinerant, wandering,
meandering, or walking about. After Aristotle's death, a
legend arose that he was a "peripatetic" lecturer – that
he walked about as he taught – and the designation Peripatetikos
came to replace the original Peripatos.
The school dates
from around 335 BCE when Aristotle began teaching in the
Lyceum. It was an informal institution whose members
conducted philosophical and scientific inquiries.
Aristotle's successors Theophrastus and Strato continued the
tradition of exploring philosophical and scientific
theories, but after the middle of the 3rd century BCE, the
school fell into a decline, and it was not until the Roman era that
there was a revival. Later members of the school
concentrated on preserving and commenting on
Aristotle's works rather than extending them, and
the school eventually died out in the 3rd century CE.
school died out, the study of Aristotle's works continued
by scholars who were called Peripatetics through Later
Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance. After the
fall of the
Western Roman Empire, the works of the Peripatetic
school were lost to the west, but in the east they were
incorporated into early Islamic
philosophy, which would play a large part in the
revival of Aristotle's doctrines in Europe in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
"Peripatetic" is a transliteration of the ancient Greek
word περιπατητικός peripatêtikos, which
means "of walking" or "given to walking about".
The Peripatetic school was actually known simply as the Peripatos.
Aristotle's school came to be so named because of the peripatoi
("colonnades" or "covered walkways") of the Lyceum where the members
The legend that the name came from Aristotle's alleged
habit of walking while lecturing may have started with Hermippus of Smyrna.
Unlike Plato, Aristotle was not a citizen of Athens and so
could not own property; he and his colleagues therefore
used the grounds of the Lyceum as a gathering place, just
as it had been used by earlier philosophers such as
Aristotle and his colleagues first began to use the Lyceum
in this way in about 335 BCE.,
after which Aristotle left Plato's
Academy and Athens, and then returned to Athens from
his travels about a dozen years later.
Because of the school's association with the gymnasium, the
school also came to be referred to simply as the Lyceum.
Some modern scholars argue that the school did not become
formally institutionalized until Theophrastus took it over, at
which time there was private property associated with the
least, the Peripatetic gatherings were probably conducted
less formally than the term "school" suggests: there was
likely no set curriculum or requirements for students, or
even fees for membership.
Aristotle did teach and lecture there, but there was also
philosophical and scientific research done in partnership
with other members of the school.
It seems likely that many of the writings that have come
down to us in Aristotle's name were based on lectures he
gave at the school.
members of the school in Aristotle's time were
Theophrastus, Phanias of
Eresus, Eudemus of Rhodes, Clytus
of Miletus, Aristoxenus, and Dicaearchus.
Much like Plato's Academy, there were in Aristotle's
school junior and senior members, the junior members
generally serving as pupils or assistants to the senior
members who directed research and lectured.
The aim of the school, at least in Aristotle's time, was
not to further a specific doctrine, but rather to explore
philosophical and scientific theories; those who ran the
school worked rather as equal partners.
after Alexander's death in
June 323 BCE, Aristotle left Athens to avoid persecution
by anti-Macedonian factions in Athens due to his ties to Macedonia.
Aristotle's death in 322 BCE, his colleague Theophrastus
succeeded him as head of the school. The most prominent
member of the school after Theophrastus was Strato of Lampsacus, who
increased the naturalistic elements of Aristotle's
philosophy and embraced a form of atheism.
The doctrines of
the Peripatetic school are the doctrines laid down by
Aristotle, and henceforth maintained by his followers.
had sought to explain things with his theory of Forms, Aristotle
preferred to start from the facts given by experience.
Philosophy to him meant science, and its aim was the
recognition of the "why" in all things. Hence he
endeavoured to attain to the ultimate grounds of things by
induction; that is to
say, by a posteriori
conclusions from a number of facts to a universal.
Logic either deals with appearances, and is then called dialectics;
or of truth, and is then called analytics.
All change or motion takes place in regard to substance, quantity, quality and place.
There are three kinds of substances – those alternately in
motion and at rest, as the animals; those
perpetually in motion, as the sky; and those eternally
stationary. The last, in themselves immovable and
imperishable, are the source and origin of all motion.
Among them there must be one first being, unchangeable,
which acts without the intervention of any other being.
All that is proceeds from it; it is the most perfect
intelligence – God.
The immediate action of this prime mover –
happy in the contemplation of itself – extends only to the
heavens; the other inferior spheres are moved by
other incorporeal and eternal substances, which the
popular belief adores as gods. The heavens are of a more
perfect and divine nature than other bodies. In the centre
of the universe is the Earth,
round and stationary. The stars,
like the sky, beings of a higher nature, but of grosser
matter, move by the impulse of the prime mover.
For Aristotle, matter is the basis of all that
exists; it comprises the potentiality of
everything, but of itself is not actually anything.
A determinate thing only comes into being when the potentiality
in matter is converted into actuality. This is
achieved by form, the idea
existent not as one outside the many, but as one in the
many, the completion of the potentiality latent in the
is the principle of life in the organic body, and is
inseparable from the body. As faculties of the soul,
Aristotle enumerates the faculty of reproduction and nutrition; of sensation, memory and recollection;
the faculty of reason, or understanding; and the faculty
of desiring, which is divided into appetition and volition.
By the use of reason conceptions, which are formed
in the soul by external sense-impressions, and may be true
or false, are converted into knowledge.
For reason alone can attain to truth either in
understanding or action.
The best and
highest goal is the happiness which originates from
Aristotle did not, with Plato, regard virtue as knowledge pure and simple,
but as founded on nature, habit, and reason.
Virtue consists in acting according to nature: that is, keeping the mean
between the two extremes of the too much and the too
Thus valor, in his view the first of
virtues, is a mean between cowardice and recklessness; temperance is the mean
in respect to sensual
enjoyments and the total avoidance of them.
The names of the
first seven or eight scholarchs (leaders) of the
Peripatetic school are known with varying levels of
certainty. A list of names with the approximate dates they
headed the school is as follows:
There are some
uncertainties in this list. It is not certain whether
Aristo of Ceos was the head of the school, but since he
was a close pupil of Lyco and the most important
Peripatetic philosopher in the time when he lived, it is
generally assumed that he was. It is not known if
Critolaus directly succeeded Aristo, or if there were any
leaders between them. Erymneus is known only from a
passing reference by Athenaeus.
Other important Peripatetic philosophers who lived during
these centuries include Eudemus of Rhodes, Aristoxenus, Dicaearchus, and Clearchus of Soli.
After the time
of Strato, the Peripatetic school fell into a decline.
Lyco was famous more for his oratory than his
philosophical skills, and Aristo is perhaps best known for
his biographical studies;
and although Critolaus was more philosophically active,
none of the Peripatetic philosophers in this period seem
to have contributed anything original to philosophy.
The reasons for the decline of the Peripatetic school are
unclear. Undoubtably Stoicism and Epicureanism provided many
answers for those people looking for dogmatic and
comprehensive philosophical systems, and the scepticism of
the Middle Academy may have
seemed preferable to anyone who rejected dogmatism.
Later tradition linked the school's decline to Neleus of Scepsis and his
descendents hiding the works of Aristotle and Theophrastus
in a cellar until their rediscovery in the 1st century
BCE, and even though this story may be doubted, it is
possible that Aristotle's works were not widely read.
In 86 BCE, Athens was sacked by the Roman
Cornelius Sulla, all the schools of philosophy in
Athens were badly disrupted, and the Lyceum ceased to
exist as a functioning institution.
Ironically, this event seems to have brought new life to
the Peripatetic school. Sulla brought the writings of
Aristotle and Theophrastus back to Rome,
where they became the basis of a new collection of
Aristotle's writings compiled by Andronicus of Rhodes
which forms the basis of the Corpus Aristotelicum
which exists today.
writers describe Andronicus, who lived around 50 BCE, as
the eleventh scholarch of the Peripatetic school,
which would imply that he had two unnamed predecessors.
There is considerable uncertainty over the issue, and
Andronicus' pupil Boethus of Sidon is also
described as the eleventh scholarch.
It is quite possible that Andronicus set up a new school
where he taught Boethus.
earlier Peripatetics had sought to extend and develop
Aristotle's works, from the time of Andronicus the school
concentrated on preserving and defending his work.
The most important figure in the Roman era is Alexander of
Aphrodisias (c. 200 CE) who commentated on
Aristotle's writings. With the rise of Neoplatonism (and Christianity) in the 3rd
century, Peripateticism as an independent philosophy came
to an end, but the Neoplatonists sought to incorporate
Aristotle's philosophy within their own system, and
produced many commentaries on Aristotle's works. In the
5th century, Olympiodorus the Elder
is sometimes described as a Peripatetic.
philosophers in classical antiquity to
comment on Aristotle were Simplicius and Boethius in the 6th century. After
this, although his works were mostly lost to the west,
they were maintained in the east where they were
incorporated into early Islamic
philosophy. Some of the greatest Peripatetic
philosophers in the Islamic philosophical
tradition were Al-Kindi (Alkindus), Al-Farabi (Alpharabius), Avicenna (Ibn Sina) and Averroes (Ibn Rushd). By the 12th
century, Aristotle's works began being translated into Latin
during the Latin
translations of the 12th century, and gradually
arose Scholastic philosophy under
such names as Thomas Aquinas, which took
its tone and complexion from the writings of Aristotle,
the commentaries of Averroes, and The Book of Healing
||Look up Peripatetic
in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
entry peripatêtikos in Liddell, Henry and Robert Scott,
A Greek-English Lexicon.
2003, p. 1141; Lynch
1997, p. 311
2003, p. 166; Furley
2003, p. 1141; Lynch
1997, p. 311
1970, p. 801 citing Diogenes
Laertius, Lives and Opinions of Eminent
Philosophers 5.2. Some modern scholars discredit
the legend altogether; see p. 229 & p. 229 n. 156,
2006, p. 229
2003, p. 1141
- 336 BCE: Furley
2003, p. 1141; 335 BCE: Lynch
1997, p. 311; 334 BCE: Irwin
2000, p. 14
& Lynch 1982, p. 623, citing Diogenes
Laertius, 5.39 & 5.52.
2000, p. 9
2000, pp. 7–9
& Lynch 1982, pp. 623–4
2000, p. 11
Philosophy" entry in Seyffert
1895, p. 482
philosophy" entry in Lieber,
Wigglesworth & Bradford 1832, p. 22
& Ackrill 1995, p. 193
- Athenaeus, v.
2003, p. 150
2007, p. 205
2003, p. 151
2003, p. 152
- Ammonius, In
de Int. 5.24
- Ammonius, In
An. Pr. 31.11
2003, p. 153
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F. (2006), Brown, Robert F., ed., Lectures
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Klearchos (1948); IV. Demetrios von Phaleron
(1949); V. Straton von Lampsakos (1950); VI. Lykon
und Ariston von Keos (1952); VII: Herakleides
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IX. Phainias von Eresos, Chamaileon, Praxiphanes
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