Plato’s Life, Works, and Philosophical Thought

1. Plato’s life and works

Plato was born in Athens around 427 BC into a wealthy and aristocratic family. His father, Ariston, was believed to have descended from the early kings of Athens, and his mother, Perictione, was related to the great Athenian lawgiver Solon. As a young man, Plato was educated in the traditional Greek manner by some of the most eminent teachers of his day, including the philosopher Socrates. At the age of twenty, he began a period of travels that took him to Egypt and Italy; on his return to Athens, he became acquainted with the teachings of the Pythagoreans.

In 404 BC, when Socrates was put to death by the Athenian democracy, Plato left Athens and did not return until 387, when he founded his famous Academy. This institute for higher learning became one of the leading centers of philosophy and science in the ancient world. Among its students were Aristotle, the future king Philip II of Macedon, and Alexander the Great. Plato himself traveled widely in later life, visiting Sicily, Italy, and even parts of northern Africa. He died in Athens at the age of eighty-one.

2. Plato’s philosophical thought

Plato is one of the most important figures in the history of Western philosophy. His writings shaped virtually every area of subsequent philosophical investigation. Moreover, Plato’s ideas anticipated many facets of modern life and thought: Justice is best served by a meritocracy; The family unit is threatened by materialism; A republic is preferable to a democracy; The highest virtue is wisdom; Knowledge is virtue; Education should be aimed at producing good citizens rather than mere technicians; The soul is separable from the body… The list could go on almost indefinitely.

It is not surprising then that many people have turned to Plato’s Republic as a blueprint for an ideal society. But as John White explains in this stimulating book, such efforts are based on a profound misunderstanding of Plato’s true aims.

In Plato’s view, philosophy was not simply a handmaiden to politics or any other form of human activity; it was rather an activity that had its own intrinsic value—the value of coming to grips with reality as it really is. And it was this commitment to philosophy as a way of life that led Plato to formulate his famous theory of Forms—the belief that behind the world of everyday experience there lies a realm of perfect being which provides the shapes or patterns according to which all things in this world are imperfectly copied.

3. Plato’s concept of the state

The key concepts in Plato’s Republic are Justice, Wisdom and Moderation. Other important ideas include Equality (the equality of men and women), Civil Disobedience (the right to disobey an unjust law), Freedom (the need for individuals to be free from political tyranny), Censorship (the need for artists to be censored if their work promotes Vice).

Plato believes that Justice is best served by a meritocracy—a government run by philosophers—because they alone have access to objective Truth (via the theory of Forms). Wisdom is required to rule because it is only through knowledge that men can discover what is truly good for themselves and their societies; Moderation must be practiced because it ensures that men will not allow their passions to blind them to the truth.

Equality is important because it is only when men and women are treated as equals that they can hope to develop their full potential; Civil Disobedience is a necessary right because it allows individuals to protect their own dignity and integrity in the face of unjust laws; Freedom is essential because it is only when men are free from political tyranny that they can pursue the good life.


Plato believed that the state was a microcosm of the universe and that justice could be achieved within the state by creating a harmonious society in which people worked together for the common good.

He believed that government and rulers had a responsibility to promote justice and to ensure that everyone had an equal opportunity to participate in society.

Some criticisms of Plato's philosophy of justice include that it is too idealistic and does not take into account human nature, which is prone to selfishness and greed. Additionally, some argue that Plato's concept of the state is not feasible or practical because it would require a high degree of cooperation and coordination among individuals, which is often difficult to achieve in reality.

Plato believed that the state was a natural entity, and that its purpose was to promote justice. He believed that justice could be achieved through a system of government in which rulers were philosopher-kings who possessed wisdom and knowledge. Plato thought that government should be used to promote the good of society, and that rulers should be virtuous and just. He believed that his concept of the state was feasible and practical, and that it would lead to a just society. However, some criticisms of Plato's philosophy of justice include the fact that it is elitist and does not take into account the needs or interests of the majority of people.