References

Plato
Excellent essay by Richard Kraut from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Philosophy Talk: Plato
Listen to this excellent radio program and take notes. The segment is about one hour. The free Real Player is required for streaming audio.

Plato and Platonism
A concise introductory essay from the Catholic Encyclopedia

The Philosophy of Plato
An well-organized overview from the Radical Academy

The Republic, Book I
One of Plato's greatest and most influential works. This is a marked-up version of the Jowett translation.

The Republic: Study Questions
To think about and look for when reading Book I.

The Apology
The mind altering depiction of the trial of Socrates. really, this work changed the world and if you read it well it will change you too.

Works by Plato
25 of his dialogues and letters from the 1871 translation by Benjamin Jowett


Plato's Allegory Of The Cave: A Springboard For The Matrix
A clever interpretation of Plato's allegory in relation to a philosophical movie The Matrix

Noble lies and perpetual war
Danny Postel and
Shadia Drury discusses Plato and other political philosophers in the service of contemporary theory and practice. This piece is particularly useful as an instance of how ancient philosophy remains relevant. Whether Drury's critique of Leo Strauss and current politics is accurate is open to discussion.


 

Plato II: Objective Values

Plato argued powerfully in favor of the objectivity of values such as truth, good, and beauty. Objective values are those that lie outside of the individual and are not dependent upon her/his perception or belief. Some philosophers theorize that all values are relative to individuals or groups. Some such relativists see truth and good as ideas that are created by the agreements of cultures. Other relativists argue that the truth of a claim depends upon the individual's perception (e.g. beauty is in the eye of the beholder). Some of the earliest relativists were the Sophists, many of whom figure as characters in Plato's dialogues arguing with Socrates. Plato, along with Socrates, opposed the Sophists and set out to refute relativism.

The Objectivity of Truth
The first major relativist philosopher was Protagoras (c.490 - c.420 BCE). His book Truth contains his most famous statement; "Humans are the measure of all things." To measure something is to give it a value and Protagoras regarded all values - truth, good, beauty, even existence - as dependent upon the human observer. That is, the value of everything is relative to the observer.

Plato gives many arguments in opposition to Protagoras' radical relativism. The contest between these points of view continue to the present. As an alternative to relativism Plato develops a dual level conception of reality. We humans are limited in time and space, our perception and intellect are subject to error, our point of view limits what we can apprehend and understand. Still, even though it is out of our understanding, we can form concepts of the infinite, whole, eternal, true universe. In the Republic, Plato introduces two powerful images to explain his idea of the dual level reality. One of these is known as the divided line:



Above the line are the attributes of objective reality; below the line are the attributes of relative reality. The human condition is characterized by the lower level, but we have the capacity to aspire to and seek the upper attributes. On this view, philosophical relativism is a confusion of our own limitations for the eternal truths of the universe.

Another powerful image from Plato's Republic is the allegory of the cave. It is the image of the limits of the human condition and the possibility of exceeding those limits. Plato's Cave image is an influential one on culture. Many instances of literature owe to this influence, including contentporary movies such as The Matrix, The Truman Show, Dark City, and others. Link to The Cave now.

The Objectivity of Good
Plato was certainly an objectivist in regard to moral values. He argues consistently that good, justice, and virtue are objective relatities that we may have more or less clear knowledge of. When we have mistaken beliefs about these values and we take our beliefs as certainty, we are bound to do wrong. But note again that the doing of wrong for Plato is always based on a mistaken belief. Evil is ignorance. That is why philosophy counts as such an important activity in Plato's view. Philosophy is the effort to improve one's life; to know the good and the true; to genuinely care for oneself.

A great story from the Republic sets the stage for Plato's investigation objective justice. You might recognize the story, since it is the basis of the tale of Golem in JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings books. Please study this excerpt which is known as The Ring of Gyges now.

 

Next - learn more about Plato's form of writing, the dialogue


 

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