Plato is renowned as one of the world’s greatest philosophers. Born in 429 BC around the time of the death of Pericles, he lived for nearly eighty years up until the period that began with the birth of Alexander the Great. He belonged to an aristocratic Athenian family who were by the standards of those days relatively rich. A large number of Plato’s relatives played an active role in Athenian politics, but this was an activity that Plato himself shied away from.
During his youth he became fascinated by the teachings and thoughts of Socrates, so much so that he attended the academy that Socrates set up. Plato was only thirty years old when Socrates was killed in prison for committing crimes against the gods.
Though incredibly distressed by the death of Socrates, Plato set about writing down the conversations he had held with his teacher. Today, most of what we know about Socrates, the man and his thinking, comes from the texts created by Plato.
Over time, he began to develop his own concepts and ideas relating to philosophy. One of his most famous works is “The Republic”. This is a text that describes his thoughts on how a better government could be formed than that what was in power in Athens at the time.
As was common amongst the ancient philosophers of that age he was not a fan of democracy. It was his impression that uneducated people should not have a say in electing officials that were to govern. He put forward a suggestion that the most intellectually accomplished in society should be those that hold power and make decisions. A cynic may say that due to his upbringing amongst the aristocracy he would always suggest that the elite class should govern.
Plato had a passion for the natural world and how biological systems interact and develop. He believed that all matter and thoughts had a perfect form. One of the most famous methods he used to explain his concepts was a metaphor relating to a cave.
He suggested that if there was a cave inside which there were a group of men chained up against a wall and they could only see the back of the cave and no more, all that would be visible to them would be shadows, and these shadows encompassed all reality. He proposed that if one of these cave prisoners was to escape and take in the beauty of the outside world, if he then returned to visit the remaining captives and tell them what existed outside, it is likely that he would be told that he was crazy and perhaps even hallucinating.
Plato suggested that we are all very similar to those men stuck in a cave. We believe that we know everything about the world and existence, but we are trapped in our bodies just as the men in the story were trapped on a cave. It was his mission to help people make more sense of the real world, both in practical and theoretical ways.