Plato was born in Athens, about 427 B.C., and died there about 347 B.C. In early life Plato saw war service and had political ambitions. However, he was never really sympathetic to the Athenian democracy and he could not join wholeheartedly in its government. He was a devoted follower of Socrates, whose disciple he became in 409 B.C., and the execution of that philosopher by the democrats in 399 B.C. was a crushing blow. He left Athens, believing that until “kings were philosophers or philosophers were kings” things would never go well with the world. ( He traced his decent from the early kings of Athens and perhaps he had himself in mind).
For several years he visited the Greeks cities of Africa and Italy, absorbing Pythagorean notions, and then in 387 B.C. he returned to Athens. ( En route, he is supposed to have been captured by pirates and held for ransom.) There, the second half of his long life, he devoted himself to philosophy. In the western suburbs he founded a school that might be termed the first university. Because it was on the grounds that had once belonged to a legendary Greek called Academus, it came to be called the Academy, and this term has been d for schools ever since.
Plato remained at the Academy for the rest of his life, except for two brief periods in the 360s. At that time he visited Syracuse, the chief city of Sicily, to serve as tutor for the new king, Dionysus II. Here was his chance to make a king a philosopher. It turned out very badly. The king insisted on behaving like a king and of course make the Athenians democrats look good by comparison. Plato managed only with difficulty to return safely to Athens. His end was peaceful and happy, for he is supposed to have died in his sleep at the age of eighty after having attended the wedding feast of one of his student.
Plato’s works, perhaps the most consistently popular and influential philosophic writings ever published, consist of a series of dialogues in which the discussions between Socrates and others are presented with infinite charm. Most of our knowledge of Socrates is from these dialogues, which views are Socrates’ and which are Plato’s is anybody ‘s guess. ( Plato cautiously never introduced himself into any of the dialogues.
Like Socrates, Plato was chiefly interested in moral philosophy and despised natural philosophy ( that is, science ) as an inferior and unworthy sort of knowledge. There is a famous story (probably apocryphal and told also of Euclid of a student asking Plato the application of the knowledge he was being taught. Plato at once ordered a slave to give the student a small coin that the might not think he had gained knowledge for nothing, then had him dismissed from school. To Plato, knowledge had no practical use, it existed for the abstract good of the soul.
Plato was found of mathematics because of its idealized abstractions and its separation from the merely...