Plato (428-347 B.C.E.) is considered to be one of the greatest philosophers the world has ever known. Though concerned with specific problems of his own era, Plato's ideas transcend all time. Throughout the ages his works have been translated into many languages and studied by great thinkers of every region of the world. A revival of Platonic thought occurred during the Renaissance. Though Plato's ideas have survived in their original forms, translators and commentators during Renaissance times often understood them in a very different way than intended.
Plato's ideas were ahead of their time, but he was nevertheless clearly a product of Classical Greek culture. Many of his dialogues question beliefs of and praise the Greek gods. Political concerns revolved around political systems common in his day, and the distaste for democracy present in his Republic focuses specifically on the form of democracy present in Athens during that time.1 For his time, Plato's work depicts women in a very positive light, but it is still evident that the opinion of women as second class citizens in ancient Greece influenced his opinion. Plato's Republic allows for and expects woman to participate in his ideal ruling class of philosopher kings, but the language used to describe women's roles is nevertheless demeaning.2 In Plato's Socratic dialogues, a plethora of examples representative of the age are used to explain and defend claims, referencing recent wars, politicians in recent history, and Homeric poetry.
Plato may have never become the world renowned philosopher that he is considered to be today if it had not been for Socrates (469-399 B.C.E.). Plato was Socrates' most famous pupil, and Socrates was such an inspiration to him that he takes the roll of protagonist in most of Plato's writing.3 It is commonly believed that Socrates was focused primarily on ethics, and that he only believed to be true a short list of absolutes referred to as the Socratic paradoxes. Plato used these as a foundation, but expanded on them to defend more specific truths through subtle reasoning and inquiry.4 He also wove Socrates' concepts of ethics in to other subjects of philosophy, such as politics and metaphysics.
Much has changed in the world since Plato's time, and at face value it is a wonder that interest in his ideas still survives. Religion has close ties with ethics and metaphysics, and though the Romans did relatively little to change the Greek faiths, the massive shift toward Christianity led by emperor Constantine in 313 C.E. redefined the appearance of religion severely.5 Christianity proposed very different views on class systems, piety, homosexuality, and divinity. The separation of church and state in the form of emperor and pope was a new form of rule that Plato had not anticipated in his writing, and popular political leaders returned to the old custom of hereditary monarchy in later generations. The expectation of servitude by the people to...