Plato was born in Athens of an aristocratic family. He recounts in the Seventh Letter, which, if genuine, is part of his autobiography, that the spectacle of the politics of his day brought him to the conclusion that only philosophers could be fit to rule. After the death of Socrates in 399, he travelled extensively. During this period he made his first trip to Sicily, with whose internal politics he became much entangled. He visited Sicily at least three times in all and may have been richly subsidised by Dionysius. On return from Sicily he began formal teaching at what became the Academy.
Plato is generally regarded as the inventor of the philosphical argument as we know it, and many would claim that the depth and range of his thought have never been surpassed.
Plato's fame rests on his Dialogues, which are all preserved. They are usually divided in three periods, early, middle, and late. The early dialogues establish the figure of Sokrates, portrayed as endlessly questioning, shattering the false claims of his contemporaries. The middle dialogues are not in dialogue form and do not exhibit the Socratic method. The middle dialogues defend the doctrines commonly thought of as Platonism. In the late works, especially the last and longest dialogue, the Laws, Plato returns to the character of the ideal republic in a more sober manner, with civic piety and religion taking much of the burden of education away from philosophy.
THE Republic of Plato is the longest of his works with the exceptionof the Laws, and is certainly the greatest of them. There are nearerapproaches to modern metaphysics in the Philebus and in the Sophist;the Politicus or Statesman is more ideal; the form and institutions ofthe State are more clearly drawn out in the Laws; as works of art, theSymposium and the Protagoras are of higher excellence. But no otherDialogue of Plato has the same largeness of view and the sameperfection of style; no other shows an equal knowledge of the world,or contains more of those thoughts which are new as well as old, andnot of one age only but of all. Nowhere in Plato is there a deeperirony or a greater wealth of humor or imagery, or more dramatic power.Nor in any other of his writings is the attempt made to interweavelife and speculation, or to connect politics with philosophy. TheRepublic is the centre around which the other Dialogues may be grouped; here philosophy reaches the highest point to which ancientthinkers ever attained. Plato among the Greeks, like Bacon among themoderns, was the first who conceived a method of knowledge, althoughneither of them always distinguished the bare outline or form from thesubstance of truth; and both of them had to be content with anabstraction of science which was not yet realized. He was the greatestmetaphysical genius whom the world has seen; and in him, more thanin any other ancient thinker, the germs of future knowledge arecontained. The sciences of logic and...