The man who defined Philosophy

 

Plato (n.) Ancient Greek philosopher.

This is the entry to be found in a pocket dictionary. It does him no justice at all.

Plato was an Athenian of noble birth, a student of Socrates, a prolific and respected author.

Plato is a titan – his theories have left imprints, fingerprints, all over our world. His ideas affect how we think of government, of god, of schools, of law and of philosophy. He is of vital importance to many Christian theorists and scholars, the study of his works was a driving force of art and intellecturalism in the Renaissance, and his definition of Philosophy created the term as we know it today.

But although he casts an exceptionally lengthy shadow, he is not untouchable.

 

Some of you may have been confronted with the Republic in high school or university. If this case, you may remember his writing as dense and complex, like a philosophical Silmarillion. But Plato’s early dialogues are very different.

Where his later works are long, these are tiny. Where the Republic and the Laws are full of highly developed concepts chasing each others’ heels, dialogues like the Ion and Hippias Major are simple and clear. There are few long, artful speeches to be found; rather, in these works Socrates is frankly catty. He is profusely, insistently humble while he picks away the confidence of his opponent question by question. Really, these dialogues are funny.

These works – the Ion, the Hippias Major and Minor, and the like – are Plato at his earliest. They are trial runs, in a sense, and in them is laid the groundwork for the leaps of thought and logic that would make Plato so revolutionary. Before you turn to the lofty notions of his later works, it is important to see where those notions, and their creator, first began.

I’m doing a course on Plato’s early dialogues at university. This seemed more fun than bullet-pointed study notes. 

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