Plato was a thinker in ancient Greece who often wrote in a dialogue format that featured his own teacher, the philosopher Socrates. Plato’s legacy, which includes ideas about education and knowledge, has influenced Western thought from his lifetime to the present.
Plato was born into a patrician, Athenian family, and he likely had a future in politics, but instead he became enthralled with philosophy as a student of Socrates. After Socrates’ execution in 399 BCE, Plato traveled around the Mediterranean. Upon returning to Athens, he opened the Academy as a center of learning. Except for two trips to Sicily, he remained in Athens teaching until his death.
Plato’s writing primarily used the dialogue format. Several of the most significant dialogues from each era follow. The early works (Crito, Ion, Meno, and Gorgias) are considered the best repository of the philosophy of Socrates. These works demonstrated a distinct interest in ethics. The middle works (Phaedo, Republic, and Phaedrus) begin to display Plato’s own philosophical thinking. The focus of this period moved to issues of truth and justice. The final period of works (Sophist, Philebus, and Timaeus) sees Plato taking a look back at issues that he had previously confronted in a more logical manner.
For scholars of education, the Republic is likely the most familiar dialogue as it speaks directly to how a population should educate its citizens. A key tenet of Plato’s thinking on education was that training on character needed to come before training of the intellect. In modern times, Plato’s views have been regarded as elitist and undemocratic because he thought certain types of education should be restricted to people with the best capacities for knowledge.
- Taylor, A. E. (2001). Plato: The man and his work. New York: Dover
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