Plato was a Greek philosopher who lived from roughly 427 BC to 347 BC. He was a major contributor to not only philosophy but also mathematics and science. A student of Socrates, he eventually went on to found the Academy of Athens, which is generally considered the Western world's first university.
Works in Philosophy
Plato's works are loosely constructed into a series of dialogues. His early dialogues consist of works such as "Apology," "Ion" and "Crito," while middle dialogues consist of "Meno," "Symposium" and "Menexenus." Many of these dialogues were created in partnership with Socrates, another Greek philosopher of the time. Later dialogues include "Phaedrus," "Theaetetus," "Statesman" and "The Republic." The most quoted of these dialogues is without question "The Republic."
"The Republic" is perhaps Plato's best-known dialogue. The dialogue was mostly concerned with the definition of justice. Specifically, justice is defined as a relationship between the state and the individual. He seeks to find out why people behave justly. He theorizes that it is due to the psychology of individuals. In the first half of the book, Plato discusses what justice means in terms of political harmony by identifying three types of individuals: producers, warriors and rulers. Each group performs its function while conforming to their own rules. When these rules are followed, justice in society is created. Later in the book, Plato seeks to show that individual justice is reflected in the justice created out of society, as people create metaphors of society within their own modes of thought.
Towards the end of "The Republic," Plato introduces three metaphors that are used to explain his take on the world: the metaphor of the sun, the allegory of the cave and the divided line. The first of these metaphors contributes to what is known as the Form of the Good, as the sun "sheds light on all," revealing all and creating the new. The allegory of the cave alludes to those who view the world simply as shadows, and these shadows are in turn formed from reality. Thus, reality is not seen, only its augmented representation. A true philosopher is thus one who escapes from the cave to view the world in its "real" form. The divided line divides these two metaphorical forms.
Works of Mathematics
In addition to his fame as a philosopher, Plato is also recognized for his contribution to mathematics. Indeed, in classical Greece, the line between philosophy, science and mathematics was often blurred. Plato's contribution was the idea that five three-dimensional shapes were the basis for the structure of the entire universe. These five shapes were the tetrahedron, the octahedron, the cube, the icosahedron and the dodecahedron. Together they are known as the platonic solids. To this day, it has been argued that many naturally occurring objects may eventually be broken down into these shapes, although other shapes have since been found in nature.
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