Plato was born within living memory of the pioneers of Greek naturalistic thought. He was of noble birth, and by all accounts a gifted poet. In his youth he was strongly influenced by Socrates, so he developed a bent towards speculative thought and critical debate, particularly about matters of ethics and virtue. All Plato's work was written in the form of dialogues in which beliefs are subjected to intense critical analysis. The early dialogues focus on ethical issues and probably reflect the views of Socrates (who is usually given the major role in each debate). The middle and later dialogues reveal the mature Plato; they consider a wider range of issues, particularly the nature of knowledge and the nature of reality, with the character of Socrates often playing a lesser role.
In some of these mature dialogues, Plato scrutinised the beliefs of earlier naturalistic philosophers. He considered that the differences among them could be resolved if the claims and limitations of each were clearly specified. Searching for the requisite common ground made him focus on logic, precise definitions of terms and consistency of classification. It also made him willing to accept abstractions such as atoms and insist that mathematics – the most abstract possible way of thinking – was the basis of all understanding. Plato’s commitment to logic, mathematics and abstraction matured into a belief – the theory of forms – that perfect order was restricted to the world of ideas. The physical world, the world of material nature, contained only approximations to the perfect forms, which the mind alone could comprehend. Associated with this trend in Plato’s thought was a hint of the notion of a single God: just as he sought the common basis of his predecessors’ speculations about the nature of the world, so he sought the ‘common ground’ among the gods in which his society believed.
KeywordsClassical Learning Classical Root Greek City Violent Motion Human Guidance
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