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A Life Sketch of Plato and His Works

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A Life Sketch of Plato and His Works

If Thales was the first of all the great Greek philosophers, Plato must remain the best known of all the Greeks. The original name of this Athenian aristocrat was Aristiclis, but in his school days he received the nickname "Platon" (meaning "broad") because of his broad shoulders.

Plato was born in Athens, Greece to one of the oldest and most distinguished families in the city. He lived with his mother, Perictione, and his father, Ariston (Until Ariston died.)

Born in an aristocratic and rich family, Plato's childhood was indulged within luxury. But his life changed when he came across Socrates. Socrates, a Greek philosopher who lived from 470-399 BC. He devoted all his time with young citizens discussing philosophy and questioning their confidence in the truth of popular opinions. As a young man, Plato grew up wanting to be a politician. However, after Socrates' execution in 399 BC had a profound effect on Plato, and was perhaps the final event that convinced him to leave Athenian politics forever.To all accounts it appears that he left Athens for Megara, then went to visit Theodorus in Cyrene, moved on to study with the Pythagoreans in Italy, and finally to Egypt. During this period he studied the philosophy of his contemporaries, geometry, geology, astronomy and religion.

After 399 BC Plato began to write extensively. It is still up for debate whether he was writing before Socrates' death, and the order in which he wrote his major texts is also uncertain. However, most scholars agree to divide Plato's major work into three distinct groups. The first of these is known as the Socratic Dialogues because of how close he stays within the text to Socrates' teachings. They were probably written during the years of his travels between 399 and 387 BC. One of the texts in this group called the Apology seems to have been written shortly after Socrates' death. Other texts relegated to this group include the Crito, Laches, Lysis, Charmides, Euthyphro, and Hippias Minor and Major.

Plato returned to Athens in 387 BC and on land that had once belonged to Academos, he founded a school of learning which he called the Academy. Plato's school is often described at the first European university. Its curriculum offered subjects including astronomy, biology, mathematics, political theory, and philosophy. Plato hoped the Academy would provide a place where thinkers could work toward better government in the Grecian cities. The period from 387 to 361 BC is often called Plato's "middle" or transitional period. It is thought that he may have written the Meno, Euthydemus, Menexenus, Cratylus, Repuglic, Phaedrus, Syposium and Phaedo during this time. The major difference between these texts and his earlier works is that he tends toward grander metaphysical themes and begins to establish his own voice in philosophy. Socrates still has a presence, however, sometimes as a fictional character. In the Meno for example, Plato writes of the Socratic idea that no one knowingly does wrong, and adds the new doctrine of recollection questioning whether virtue can be taught. In the Phaedo, the Platonic doctrine of the Forms, in which Plato makes claims as to the immortality of the human soul. The middle dialogues also reveal Plato's method of hypothesis.

Plato's

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