Excellent essay by Richard Kraut from the Stanford
Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Listen to this excellent radio program and take
notes. The segment is about one hour. The free Real
Player is required for streaming audio.
A concise introductory essay from the Catholic
Philosophy of Plato
An well-organized overview from the Radical Academy
Republic, Book I
One of Plato's greatest and most influential works.
This is a marked-up version of the Jowett translation.
Republic: Study Questions
To think about and look for when reading Book I.
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.
25 of his dialogues and letters
from the 1871 translation by Benjamin
Allegory Of The Cave: A Springboard For The Matrix
A clever interpretation of Plato's allegory in
relation to a philosophical movie The Matrix
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.
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
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