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Roman copy of a Greek portrait of Plato, probably by Silanion and placed in the academy after Plato's death, Glyptothek Munich

Plato ( ancient Greek Πλάτων Plato , latinisiert Plato * 428 / 427 BC.. In Athens or Aigina ; † 348 / .. 347 BC in Athens) was an ancient Greek philosopher .

He was a pupil of Socrates , whose thinking and method he described in many of his works. The versatility of his talents and the originality of his pioneering achievements as a thinker and writer made Plato one of the most famous and influential personalities in intellectual history . In metaphysics and epistemology , in ethics , anthropology , state theory , cosmology , art theory and philosophy of language , he also set standards for those who - like his student Aristotle - contradicted him on key issues.

In literary dialogue , which reveals the course of a joint investigation, he saw the only appropriate form of the written presentation of philosophical endeavors for truth . Out of this conviction he helped the still young literary genre of dialogue to break through and thus created an alternative to textbooks and rhetoric as well-known means of representation and persuasion. He incorporated poetic and mythical motifs and forms of expression in order to convey trains of thought in a playful, vivid way. At the same time, with this way of presenting his views, he avoided dogmatic stipulations and left many questions that arose from his assumptions open or left their clarification to the readers, who he wanted to encourage their own efforts.

A key issue for Plato is the question of how unquestionably secure knowledge can be reached and how one can distinguish it from mere opinions. In the early dialogues, he is primarily concerned with exposing conventional and common ideas about what is worth striving for and the right action to be inadequate or useless in order to enable the reader to move from supposed knowledge to admitted ignorance. In the writings of his middle creative period, he tries to create a reliable basis for real knowledge with his theory of ideas . According to his conviction, such knowledge cannot relate to the constantly changing objects of sensory experience, but only to immaterial, unchangeable and eternal givens of a purely spiritual world inaccessible to sensory perception, the "ideas" in which he is the archetypal and models of the sensory things sees. The soul whose immortality will make it plausible he writes participation in the world of ideas and access to the existing there absolute truth. Those who turn to this truth through philosophical endeavors and complete an educational program geared towards it can recognize their true purpose and thus find orientation in central life questions. Plato sees the task of the state in creating optimal conditions for the citizens and in implementing justice . Therefore, he deals intensively with the question of how the constitution of an ideal state can best serve this goal. In later works the doctrine of ideas partly takes a back seat, partly problems that arise from it are critically examined; in the area of natural philosophy and cosmology, however, to which Plato turned in old age, he assigned the ideas a decisive role in his explanation of the cosmos.

Plato founded the Platonic Academy , the oldest institutional school of philosophy in Greece, from which Platonism spread throughout the ancient world. Plato's spiritual legacy influenced numerous Jewish, Christian, and Islamic philosophers in a variety of ways. His most important student was Aristotle , whose direction, Aristotelianism , arose from the critical examination of Platonism. In late antiquity , the Middle Ages, and the early modern period , Aristotelianism became the starting point for concepts that partly competed with, and partly merged with, Platonic ones.

In modern times, thinkers from the “ Marburg School ” of Neo-Kantianism ( Hermann Cohen , Paul Natorp ) used Platonic ideas. Karl Popper attacked Plato's political philosophy; his allegation that it was a form of totalitarianism sparked long-running controversy in the 20th century.


Since the Platonists exuberantly revered Plato, numerous anecdotes and legends, some of them fantastic, were spread about his life, which often served to glorify him. It was even claimed that he was a son of the god Apollo and that his biological father was just his stepfather. But there were also stories that were intended to ridicule and defame him. Hence the historical truth is difficult to ascertain. One of the main sources is Plato's Seventh Letter , which today is largely believed to be genuine and, even if it were inauthentic, would have to be considered a valuable contemporary source.


Relationship of Plato

Plato came from a distinguished, wealthy Athens family. His father Ariston considered himself a descendant of Kodros , a mythical king of Athens; in any case, one of Ariston's ancestors, Aristocles, was already 605/604 BC. BC. Archon , so had held the highest office of the state. Among the ancestors of Plato's mother Periktione was a friend and relative of the legendary Athenian legislature Solon . The philosopher had two older brothers, Adeimantos and Glaukon , who appear in the Politeia as participants in dialogue, and an older sister, Potone , whose son Speusippos later succeeded Plato as head of the academy ( Scholarch ). Ariston died early; Periktione married around 423 BC. Her maternal uncle, Pyrilampes , a respected Athenian who had been an envoy in Pericles ' time. Pyrilampes had a son from a previous marriage, Demos , who became Plato's stepbrother. Antiphon , a younger half-brother of Plato, emerged from the marriage between Periktione and Pyrilampes .

While Plato's stepfather was democratic , the family of his mother Periktione included several prominent politicians with oligarchic attitudes: their uncle Kallaischros belonged to 411 BC. BC to the Council of Four Hundred , which came to power for a short time through the coup , their cousin Critias was a member of the oligarchical Council of Thirty ("Thirty Tyrants"), the 404/403 BC. BC Athens ruled. Under his rule, her brother Charmides was appointed to an oligarchic body and died fighting the Democrats.

Childhood and youth

According to the Chronicle of Apollodorus , Plato was born in 428 or 427 BC. Born at the time of the Attic plague , according to ancient tradition on the 7th day of the month of Thargelion (May / June), the mythical birthday of the god Apollo. On this day later - in the 3rd century AD - the Platonists celebrated his birthday party. As early as the 3rd century BC A legend was widespread according to which "Plato" was originally just an epithet that he received from the Greek word πλατύς ( platýs "broad"), which allegedly alluded to the width of his forehead or chest. This claim is considered implausible by research. A tradition according to which Plato originally bore the name of his grandfather Aristocles is an invention that arose in the context of this legend. Plato spent his childhood and youth during the Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC), which ended with the surrender of his hometown. As a son from a distinguished family, he enjoyed a careful upbringing. It is reported that he received lessons in sports, grammar, painting, music, and poetry, but later burned his youthful poetic works; however, these claims may have been derived from his dialogues after the fact.

He was introduced to philosophy by Kratylos , a follower of Heraclitus , after whom Plato later named his dialogue Kratylos . At the age of twenty he met Socrates , whom he joined as a student. He stayed with him until Socrates' death around a decade later. As a teacher and as a role model, Socrates shaped the spiritual development of Plato.

Turning away from politics and first trips

When, after the end of the war in Athens in 404, the reign of terror of the thirty oligarchs , supported by the victorious Spartans , including relatives of Plato, began, he was invited to participate in political life, but declined because he regarded this regime as criminal. However, he also disliked the political conditions after the restoration of Attic democracy in 403. A turning point in Plato's life was the execution of Socrates in 399, which deeply shook him. He viewed the state's crackdown on his teacher as an expression of moral depravity and as evidence of a fundamental flaw in the political system. He now saw no possibility of a philosophically responsible participation in political life in Athens, developed into a sharp critic of the times and demanded a state governed by philosophers.

After the death of Socrates, Plato and other Socrates went to Megara for a short time to Euclid of Megara , who was also a student of Socrates. In his dialogues Phaedo and Theaetetus he later had this Euclid appear as Socrates' interlocutor. In the following years he is said to have undertaken a great educational trip which, according to various sources, whose information on the route is contradictory, led him to Cyrene to the mathematician Theodoros of Cyrene , to Egypt and to southern Italy . The details and dating are controversial in research; in particular, it is doubted that Plato was ever in Egypt. There is some evidence that the stay in Egypt was invented in order to connect Plato with the Egyptian wisdom tradition. It is unclear whether the educational trip was connected to the first trip to Sicily or whether it took place a few years earlier.

First trip to Sicily

Around 388 Plato undertook his first trip to Sicily. First he drove to southern Italy, where the Pythagorean community of philosophers had gained great influence in the 5th century , but was then severely weakened in bloody unrest. In Taranto Plato met the then most prominent and politically successful Pythagorean, the statesman and mathematician Archytas of Taranto , who became his host . Above all, he hoped that Archytas would provide mathematical knowledge. One of the philosophers he met in southern Italy is said to have been Timaeus of Lokroi , whom he later made the main interlocutor in his dialogue Timaeus ; the historicity of this figure is doubted, however. Then Plato traveled to Syracuse , where the tyrant Dionysius I ruled at that time .

The reports of this first visit to Syracuse are largely legendary and controversial. Since the confrontation of an upright philosopher with a tyrannical ruler was a popular literary motif in ancient times, research is skeptical of the traditional details of Plato's encounter with the tyrant and his break with him. In any case, Plato had contact with Dionysius, and the outcome was unfavorable for the philosopher; Plato's sincerity is said to have angered the ruler. However, Plato became close friends with Dionysios' brother-in-law and son-in-law Dion , who became an avid Platonist. Plato disliked the luxury life in Magna Graecia , the Greek cities on Italian soil.

According to sources, at the end of the trip to Sicily, Plato was captured and sold as a slave , but was soon released and was able to return to Athens. A Spartan named Pollis is said to have sold it on behalf of Dionysius on the slave market in Aigina, whereupon the buyer, a certain Annikeris from Cyrene, gave freedom to the philosopher out of generosity and esteem. It is very likely that Dionysius was not involved in the episode; rather, the ship on which the philosopher returned from Sicily was captured by the Spartans or the Aeginetes, who were at war with Athens at the time.

Setting up a school and teaching

Plato's Academy, mosaic floor in Pompeii , 1st century AD

After his return, Plato bought around 387 BC. BC near the Akadḗmeia ( Άκαδήμεια ) grove of the Attic hero Akademos (Hekademos) in the northwest of Athens where he began to give philosophical and scientific lessons and encouraged his students to research. He was supported by visiting philosophers and visiting scholars as well as advanced students who took on teaching assignments. As the name was transferred from the grove to the school over time, the school members began to call themselves academics ( Άκαδημαικοί Akademaikoí ). This is how the Academy , the first Greek school of philosophy, was born . The model of the Pythagorean community in Italy probably provided an impetus for this . There was a rivalry with Isocrates , a teacher of rhetoric who shortly before - around 390 - had founded a school of eloquence; Plato's attitude to the aspirations of Isocrates was critical. Plato lived and taught on the academy's property for the next two decades.

Second trip to Sicily

Despite the bad experiences on the first trip to Sicily, Plato was persuaded to make another trip to Syracuse after the death of the tyrant Dionysius I, who died in 367. After he had initially had strong concerns, he decided in 366 BC. On the way. He accepted an invitation that the tyrant's son and successor, Dionysius II , had addressed to him at the instigation of Plato's friend Dion. Dion strove for a significant position at court. Plato hoped, in cooperation with Dion, to bring his political ideas to bear by exerting influence on the young ruler and to try, at best, to set up a state based on the ideal of philosophical rule. Dion was more optimistic than Plato, who had been skeptical from the start.

It turned out, however, that Dionysius II was unwilling or unable to undertake a comprehensive reform of the state; his main focus was on securing his ever-threatened rule. Only those who had the upper hand in the intrigues and power struggles there could prevail at court. In the conflict, Dion resorted to conspiratorial means, which (probably in the late summer of 366) led to his exile; he went to Greece. After this failure, Plato also left in 365. However, it was agreed with Dionysius that both should return after the situation had calmed down. There was a rivalry between Dion and Dionysius for the friendship of Plato, and Dionysius was disappointed that Plato gave Dion his preference.

Third trip to Sicily

361 BC BC Plato traveled for the third time - again reluctantly and under pressure - to Sicily. Archytas had asked him, hoping that Plato would exert a favorable influence on the tyrant, and Dionysius II, who wanted the philosopher to be present, had put pressure on him by making the arrival of Plato a condition for a pardon for Dion. So Plato decided to embark on the journey with his students Speusippus and Xenocrates on a ship sent by Dionysius.

The decisive conversation with Dionysius was disappointing for Plato. According to Plato's account, Dionysius wrongly imagined that he already understood the philosophical teachings and showed no willingness to submit to the discipline of real students and to lead a philosophical life. In addition, he did not keep the promise to rehabilitate Dion and even confiscated his large fortune. In the circles of the Platonists and the followers of Dion the conviction had spread that only an overthrow of the tyrant could bring about an improvement of the situation. Speusippos used his stay in Syracuse to pursue activities, which the tyrant probably did not hide. Because his friends and supporters took sides with the opposition, Plato came under suspicion and distress, especially when he stood up for a partisan Dion suspected of high treason. Mercenaries of Dionysius, who were interested in the continued existence of the existing balance of power, threatened him. Archytas rescued him from this life-threatening situation, who intervened from Taranto and enabled him to return to Athens in the summer of 360.

Revolution in Syracuse

After the failure of Plato's efforts, Dion decided to resort to violence with his followers. He was encouraged and supported by members of the academy to which he himself belonged. Plato stayed away from it, as he continued to be in the hospitality relationship with the tyrant, but he did not oppose these activities of his students. In 357 Dion ventured into the campaign with a small force of mercenaries. Soon after landing in Sicily, he succeeded in overthrowing Dionysius with the help of his numerous enemies in Syracuse and in taking power in the city. Whether or to what extent he actually wanted to introduce a Platonic state order, of which Plato himself was convinced to the last, is controversial. In any case, he tried to reshape the constitution, but met fierce opposition and was suspected of wanting to establish a new tyranny. After much turmoil and fighting, this led to his murder. When Plato learned of Dion's death, he composed an epigram with which he set a literary memorial to his beloved friend. He sent the seventh letter to Dion's relatives and partisans in Sicily, in which he justified and explained his behavior.

Old age and death

Plato spent the last years of his life teaching and researching. In old age he addressed a broad, non-philosophical audience with a public lecture on the good , but met with incomprehension. He died in 348/347 BC. And was buried on or near the academy site. His will is preserved. Since he was unmarried and childless, his inheritance fell to a nephew or great-nephew, the boy Adeimantos. His nephew Speusippos was elected as his successor as head of the academy ( Scholarch ).


The three-volume complete edition of Plato's works, which the printer Henri Estienne ( Latinized Henricus Stephanus) published in Geneva in 1578, was the definitive edition until the early 19th century. According to the page numbering of this edition ( Stephanus pagination ), Plato's works are still cited today.

Tradition and authenticity

Papyrus fragment from the Politeia from Oxyrhynchos , 3rd century. POxy 3679, Ashmolean Museum , Oxford

All of Plato's works that were known in antiquity have been preserved, with the exception of the lecture On the Good , of which Aristotle wrote a post that has been lost. In addition, there are works that were widespread under Plato's name, but are possibly or certainly fake; They, too, largely belong to the Corpus Platonicum (the entirety of the works traditionally ascribed to Plato), although their inauthenticity was recognized in some cases as early as ancient times. A total of 47 titles are known of works that Plato wrote or for which he has been claimed as the author. The Corpus Platonicum consists of the dialogues (including the unfinished late work Critias ), the Apology of Socrates , a collection of 13 letters and a collection of definitions, the Horoi . A collection of Dihairese , two further letters, 32 epigrams and a fragment of a poem (7 hexameters ) have survived outside the corpus ; with the exception of some of the poems, these works are certainly not from Plato.

Since the 3rd century BC Chr. Occupied themselves philologists of the Alexandrian school with the works of Plato. One of them, Aristophanes of Byzantium (3rd / 2nd century BC), arranged the writings in trilogies . The most common ancient grouping, however, is that in nine tetralogies (groups of four), i.e. 36 works, namely 34 dialogues, the apology and the collection of letters. The tetralogy order, the time of origin of which is controversial, was carried out according to content-related aspects; The ancient Platonists were mainly concerned with the didactic-pedagogical question of the order in which a student should read the scriptures.

The current state of research, accepted by the majority of scholars, on the authenticity of the 36 works that make up the tetralogies is as follows:

All of the letters except the third , sixth , seventh and eighth are certainly spurious; the seventh letter is largely accepted as genuine, the other three are controversial.

In addition to the 34 dialogues of the tetralogies, the traditional Corpus Platonicum also contains others, which are now separated out as "appendices" to the corpus (appendix Platonica) because they are certainly not authentic. All of the spurious dialogues appear to be traced back to members of the Senior and Junior Academy . They are in the period between the 4th and the 2nd century BC. BC originated. Some were probably included in the tetralogy order at an early stage and remained in it despite existing doubts, whereby the desire to adhere to the scheme of nine tetralogies may have played a role. Today, research does not only look at the fake dialogues from the point of view of falsification, but rather sees them as examples of an examination of the problems raised by Plato, which imitates Plato's style and reasoning. In addition, more recent studies no longer adhere to a strict separation of real and fake scripts; rather, the possibility is shown that some dubious and spurious dialogues are drafts of Plato or elaborations of such drafts by his students or later Platonists. Even with the certainly authentic dialogues, especially the late ones, one reckons with revision by members of the academy. It is also attested that Plato himself constantly developed his works.

The first page of the collection of Plato's works, the famous
Codex Clarkianus , prepared for Arethas in 895

The text transmission is based primarily on the numerous medieval manuscripts, which can ultimately be traced back to two ancient copies. A comparison of the handwritten tradition with the many, in some cases extensive, quotations from Plato in ancient literature shows that the existing text is largely uniform and reliable. The handwritten tradition begins in the late 9th century. The Patriarch of Constantinople Photios I , a leading scholar of the 9th century, had a collection of all the works handed down under Plato's name prepared in two codices . These two volumes are lost today, but the text of the Patriarch was the basis of later, sometimes magnificent copies, which make up a large part of the text tradition available today. Another composite manuscript of Plato's writings was commissioned by Arethas , a student of Photios. In 1423 the humanist Giovanni Aurispa brought a complete collection of Plato's works from Constantinople to Italy. The many ancient papyri , which, however, only contain text fragments, complement the medieval text witnesses. The oldest papyrus is from the late 4th or early 3rd century BC. Chr.


An absolute dating of the individual works is very difficult, as they hardly provide any indication of historical events when they were written and the action of the dialogues is usually set in the lifetime of Socrates, i.e. in the time before the actual beginning of Plato's writing activity. In some cases, at least the period of origin can be narrowed down, for example thanks to allusions to the datable or through the onset of reception.

The relative dating of the writings within the complete works has been intensively discussed in research since the late 18th century, since determining the chronological order of their creation is a prerequisite for all hypotheses about the development of Plato's thought. Clear internal criteria are cross-references in the dialogues, but these only appear sporadically. External (historical) criteria are indications of datable events, which, however, cannot be clearly assigned in some cases. The reasoning is therefore mainly based on philological observations and considerations for a coherent philosophical development. Among other things, it is about hypotheses according to which one dialogue is based on another and requires knowledge of the thought processes developed there. The most important criteria, however, are not of a content, but of a linguistic nature. Relevant linguistic features result on the one hand from a general style analysis, which, however, due to its subjective character and because of Plato's wide range of variation in the art of style, hardly permits any conclusive conclusions; on the other hand, it is about the detailed results of the application of language statistical methods , which began in 1867. Language statistics are based on the observation that the occurrence and frequency of use of individual words or combinations of particles can be characteristic of individual creative phases of an author. Clues of this kind also result from the rhythm of the sentence and from hiaten .

The combination of these approaches has enabled a rough threefold division into early, middle and late works, which - with some fluctuations - has established itself as the dominant doctrine. However, this scheme is repeatedly contradicted with regard to individual works and the solidity of its basis is disputed. A number of borderline cases remain unresolved. In addition, for those Plato researchers who emphasize the aspect of repeated revision of some dialogues, the results of the studies of language statistics are of little importance. In addition, the order within the three groups remains largely uncertain or entirely unclear.

According to the prevailing view today, based on the stylistic analysis, the following grouping is relatively plausible (with alphabetical order within the groups):

Early works Apologie , Charmides , Euthydemos , Euthyphron , Gorgias , Hippias minor (if real), Ion , Kratylos , Crito , Laches , Lysis , Menexenos , Menon , Phaidon , Protagoras , Symposion
Middle Age Works Parmenides , Phaedrus , Politeia , Theaitetos
Late works Critias , Nomoi , Philebos , Politikos , Sophistes , Timaeus

A similar picture emerges when looking at the content, but then Kratylos , Phaedo and Symposion seem to belong to the middle group rather than the early works, while Parmenides and Theaetetos , who stylistically belong to the middle group, already belong to the later work. This does not contradict the results of the style analysis, since the phases of a philosophical development do not have to correspond exactly to those of the stylistic one. Terminologically, however, confusion can result from the different criteria for periodization.

Literary form

The dialogue principle

Socrates in conversation with the young Xenophon. Detail from Raphael's The School of Athens (1510–1511), fresco in the Stanza della Segnatura (Vatican)

All of Plato's works, with the exception of the letters and the apology, are not - as was most of the philosophical literature of that time - written as didactic poems or treatises , but rather in dialogue form; The apology also contains occasional dialogical passages. In doing so, Plato lets a main character, mostly Socrates, conduct philosophical debates with different interlocutors, which are replaced and supplemented and interwoven with insertions such as indirect reports, excursions or mythological parts; long monological speeches also appear. Other disciples of Socrates such as Xenophon , Aeschines , Antisthenes , Euclid of Megara and Phaedo of Elis wrote works in the form of the Socratic dialogue ( Σωκρατικοὶ λόγοι Sokratikoì lógoi ), but Plato achieved such outstanding importance in this area that the ancient world ( if not unanimously) as the inventor of this then still young literary genre. He helped the Socratic dialogue to break through and at the same time to its completion.

The dialogue form differs significantly from other text forms:

  • She speaks to the reader through the artistic execution.
  • It frees from the expectation of systematic completeness; Unresolved issues may remain open.
  • It depicts a process of gaining knowledge, which also leads to the revision of positions, and thus stimulates active thinking more than a textbook.
  • The author does not comment on the theses presented; he steps back behind his characters and leaves the judgment to the reader.
  • Thinking is subject to argumentative control by the interlocutor.
  • Rigid terminology , such as Plato generally shuns, can be avoided.

The place and time of the dialogues are often specified precisely; a visit to the imprisoned Socrates (Kriton) , the house of a wealthy Athenian (Politeia) , a banquet (symposium) , a walk outside Athens (Phaedrus) or a hike to a sanctuary (Nomoi) form the concrete environment. The realistic setting gives the impression of a historical event and conveys authenticity. However, these are not authentic minutes of the conversation, but literary fictions. Often the sources of the traditions, reports or myths that are woven into the dialogues are precisely described and authenticated, for example in the Atlantis myth in Timaeus and in Critias .

Socrates, drawn from Plato's perspective, in whose shape historical and idealized features are mixed, is at the center of by far most dialogues. A demarcation between Plato's own philosophy and that of the historical Socrates, who only expressed himself orally, is difficult under these circumstances; it has long been one of the most important and controversial topics in research. Often the early aporetic dialogues are viewed as relatively realistic reproductions of the views of historical Socrates and are therefore used to gain a picture of the original Socratic philosophy. The apology is best suited for this purpose . At the latest in the middle dialogues, in which the theory of ideas comes to the fore, Plato's own thinking gains weight. Some researchers set a transition phase in the assumed development from Socratic to originally Platonic philosophizing, to which they attribute, among others, Euthydemos , Hippias maior , Lysis , Menexenos and Menon . Plato himself always remains in the background in his works; only in the Apology and in the Phaedo does his name fall marginally.

The Platonic Socrates dominates the dialogue. He determines the course of the conversation by giving it the decisive impulses, and he helps his partners to gain insights and knowledge in a maieutic way. He refutes the opinions of others; this contrasts with the fact that his own statements always turn out to be unassailable. Most of the time, the interlocutors are initially sure of their cause, but then Socrates draws attention to deficiencies in their thought processes or in their unchecked assumptions until they see the flawedness of their previous opinions. For the most part, the dialogue partners are individually drawn figures for which historical models can be proven. In the early dialogues, it is mostly people who show a direct or indirect connection to the respective topic, for example priests, poets, statesmen, military commanders, educators or speakers who the reader believes have competence in the relevant field because of their profession. It is only in the later works that the dialogue participants often have a specifically philosophical background, as their relevant previous knowledge shows. The form of dialogue enables Plato to adapt the linguistic design of free speech to certain known peculiarities of his protagonists.

The number of people discussing varies between two and four. Socrates develops his train of thought in the confrontation with his consciously chosen interlocutors, whereby he always turns to them one after the other. A change of interlocutor is often accompanied by an abrupt change in the level of the debate. Such changes also occur when the dominant interlocutor switches to people who are not present by reporting on the course of an earlier dialogue with other people, as in the case of Diotima’s speech about Eros at the symposium . The aim of the dialogue is the agreement ( ὁμολογία homología ) of the interlocutors in the result of the discussion. Depending on the nature of the topic and the competence of the participants, the dialogue leads to a solution that is satisfactory for everyone or to a hopeless argumentation situation ( aporia , ἀπορία aporía “perplexity”). If something needs to be clarified, but would be overwhelming in the current conversation constellation, Plato consciously assigns this task to the discussion with another conversation partner.

The dialogues place extremely different demands on the intellectual abilities of the readers. Hence it is not clear what audience Plato usually had in mind. It is likely that some of his dialogues were primarily aimed at a broad readership as promotional ( protreptic ) writings, while demanding works such as the Timaeus were primarily intended for philosophically trained and students of the Academy. In any case, Plato wanted to influence the educated public in order to win outsiders for philosophy and also to spread his political convictions. However, he also saw the danger of misunderstanding if his writings got into the hands of readers who were unable to understand them without further help.

It can be assumed that the contemporary audience was both readers and listeners, and that reading aloud and discussing was a high priority. The dialogues, which also show parallels to the Greek drama and occasionally contain quotations from tragedy , were sometimes performed or recited like dramas in antiquity.

Characteristics of the dialogue groups

Early works

Plato's early works depict people and their opinions with vivid clarity and dramatic liveliness. A series of dialogues in this phase is about the search for answers to the most important and pressing questions for Socrates; Questions are asked about the nature of piety (Euthyphron) , bravery (Laches) , prudence (Charmides) , virtue (Hippias minor) and friendship and love (Lysis) .

Socrates expects conclusive answers in this regard, especially from supposed experts, but detailed questioning shows that they do not have any satisfactory information to offer. In some dialogues the task initially set remains unsolved; they are called aporetic definition dialogues. The aporia does not mean that Plato was convinced that the problem was unsolvable, but can also be traced back to the fact that the dialogue partner was insufficiently qualified to work out a solution. Young people who are inexperienced but eager to learn often appear as debaters.

A dialogue group in this phase has the sharp argument with well-known sophists such as Gorgias or Protagoras , whose attitude to ethics and pedagogy is vigorously opposed by the Platonic Socrates. Under the term “sophists”, which he used to be pejorative, Plato sums up different thinkers who moved around as teachers and taught for a fee, but otherwise had little in common. With him the typical sophist appears as the epitome of a mediator of worthless pseudo-knowledge. Plato's polemical account does not provide a reliable picture of the personalities and teachings of the historical sophists. Another group of dialogues takes place scenically and temporally in the context of the condemnation of Socrates.

The basic method that Socrates uses in these dialogues is the refutation ( ἔλεγχος élenchos “investigation”, “examination”) of the original views of his interlocutors, which turn out to be naive and unreflected. Such liberation from bogus knowledge reveals the lack of real knowledge. Socrates didactically attach great importance to the fact that the interlocutor acquires knowledge through his or her own efforts in the course of the intellectual debate. Socrates himself compares this art of conversation with the “midwifery” of his mother ( μαιευτική τέχνη maieutikḗ téchnē , hence Maieutik ). A definition of the terms is obtained together. This is followed by the search for reasons for the truth of certain beliefs. Socrates shapes the whole discussion with his personality and his irony. With his questions he guides the interlocutor in the desired direction.

The goal of philosophical endeavors is to get closer to the truth and thus to gain orientation for life by recognizing what the right way of life consists of and how it is founded. In this search for truth, Plato distinguishes himself from “sophistic” and “rhetorical” arguing , which he vehemently rejects because it is not geared towards knowledge, but is content with providing tricks to win a view regardless of its truthfulness to help.

Medium and late works

The dialogues, which are grouped into the middle group according to content criteria, differ significantly from the early works. They are considered Plato's literary masterpieces. Even in this phase, questions of definition are often at the center of the discussion, but the investigation no longer leads to aporetic situations. Instead, the now introduced doctrine of ideas is mostly assumed as a well-known, insightful and therefore no longer needing detailed justification basis for the conversation. While ethical questions were primarily debated in the early works, the middle work deals with a broader spectrum of philosophical problems, including topics such as death and immortality of the soul (Phaidon) , the ideal state (Politeia) , love (Phaidros) and erotic attraction (Symposion ) , Philosophy of language (Kratylos) and the beautiful (Hippias maior) .

The theory of ideas is also tried out in later works, for example in dealing with the questions of being ( Parmenides and Sophistes ) and knowledge (Theaetetus) and problems of natural philosophy (Timaeus) . However, as in the middle dialogues, the theory of ideas does not form the basis of the argument. Another focus of the late works is political philosophy ( politos and nomoi ). The late works often fall back on insights that have already been acquired or modify the theses of earlier works considerably. A development from the middle to the late period can also be observed in literary design. Already in some middle and then especially in the late dialogues, the character of the previously dominant protagonist Socrates recedes a bit, and extensive monologues that are also given by other people (such as in Timaeus ) increase.

The mythical element

A number of myths are built into the dialogues , including the Atlantis myth in Timaeus and Critias , the myths of the spherical people and the birth of Eros in the symposium , the myths of Gyges , He and the autochthons in the Politeia , the myths of the team of souls and from Theuth in Phaedrus , the myth of the Golden Age in Politics , the myth of the creation of the world in Timaeus and several otherworldly myths .

Plato presents his myths in narrative monologues, which are usually woven in at the beginning or at the end of a conversation. It is typical of these myths that they make unverifiable claims. Sometimes divine characters come into play as actors, or there is talk of the distant past. In some passages Plato uses metaphors and pictorial similes . It is always about making the content of theoretical statements clear, transferring it allegorically to a concrete level and giving it additional persuasive power. For example, Plato's myths are supposed to illustrate the state of the world (politics) , its creation (Timaeus) , human abilities (Theuth myth), the essence of the soul (Phaedrus) or its survival in the hereafter (Phaedo) . With his mythological excursions, Plato falls back in many cases on existing traditions as well as religious and philosophical ideas that were common in sophistics , Orphicism or Pythagoreanism and which he modifies in order to serve his intentions and adapt them to his convictions.

In general, myths that Plato had Socrates recite can be distinguished from those that other dialogue participants tell. Among the myths that are not put into the mouth of Socrates, there are reports that are ascribed to certain sources, as well as those that claim belief without reference to a source, and aitiological legends that are supposed to explain how something came about. In the dialogue of the same name, the sophist Protagoras recites the myth of Prometheus about the origins of culture in order to underpin his claim that virtue ( aretḗ ) can be taught in the manner of the sophists. Similarly, the comedy poet Aristophanes wants to illustrate in the symposium with the myth of the spherical people that eroticism is to be interpreted as a striving to restore an original unity and wholeness.

The best-known and most controversial Platonic myth is that of Atlantis , which Plato has told Critias with reference to a tradition of witnesses and alleged written evidence in the dialogue named after him and in the Timaeus . In these dialogues, Plato describes the mighty sea power Atlantis, which was once defeated in the war by the land power Ur-Athens, equipped with ideal trains, and finally sank in the sea. This myth is mostly understood as an illustration of the alleged superiority of the Platonic ideal state of the Politeia . Plato's otherworldly myths serve religious and edifying purposes, in which he lets Socrates describe the fate of the immortal soul after death.

The meaning of the word myth varies considerably with Plato. It often seems to express a contrast to the term logos , which in philosophy designates a statement based on justification. However, myth and logos can also be interwoven, and Plato often presents a myth as a logos and thus as being based on reality; he often emphasizes the truthfulness of the story. There are myths in which the narrators refer to sources for which they claim to be credible, such as the myth of the Er in the Politeia . Elsewhere, Plato writes of a mixture of truths and falsities in myth and describes myths as stories for children. In the dialogues he sharply demarcates the myth from the logos in some places, but in other places his Socrates leaves the decision of whether a story is to be classified as a myth or a logos to the judgment of the interlocutor.

In research on Plato, therefore, different interpretations of the position of myth in relation to logos have been proposed. Some scholars see myth as a form subordinate to Logos. Others assume that myth and logos are presented as equally legitimate approaches to truth. Accordingly, Plato does not understand the myth in the sense of an opposition to the logos; rather, it is a question of two complementary approaches to reality, two different ways of understanding the world, one of which is secured with reasons of reason, while the other presents aspects that are difficult to make rationally understandable. Depending on the understanding of their meaning and purpose, myths have been judged very differently since antiquity with regard to their literary and philosophical value.


Theory of ideas

The introduction of the doctrine of ideas is often seen as the dividing line between Socratic and Platonic philosophy. In the early aporetic definition dialogues, Plato's Socrates dealt primarily with ethical issues. He asks what characteristics make up a particular virtue such as justice or bravery or what characteristics characterize the good . However, the definitions considered there remain inadequate for him, because they are either too narrow or too general and therefore do not allow a precise definition of the content of the respective term to be defined.

In contrast, in the middle dialogues, Plato deals with the essence of a virtue or any other object without restricting himself to the search for defining features. A person may be called just, but he is not just in and of himself ; an object can be called beautiful, but it is never the epitome of pure beauty. All things to which, based on judgments based on sensory experience, a certain property - for example "beautiful" - is ascribed to have a greater or lesser degree of part in their conceptual principle, in an idea ( ἰδέα idéa ), for example the " Beauty in itself ”.

Ideas as transcendent objects

The platonic idea is - in contrast to the modern term "idea" - not a mental product, not an idea or a thought. Plato assumes that the world as it is sensually perceived by humans is subordinate to a realm of ideas that is withdrawn from sensory perception, but real and independently existing, which can only be recognized on a spiritual path. For Plato the idea is the true being , its being is being in the real sense. Sensually perceptible objects, on the other hand, only have a conditional and therefore imperfect being. The idea comes from who abstracts from the insignificant peculiarities of the individual phenomenon and directs his attention to the general that underlies the individual things and is common. In the symposium , for example, he describes how one can move from the sensual perception of a beautiful body to the beauty of the soul, customs and intellectual knowledge, and finally to what is “naturally beautiful”, i.e. the idea of ​​the beautiful. This is the epitome of what is beautiful, because only the idea of ​​the beautiful is unaffected by unsightly parts. Likewise, the idea of ​​righteousness is free from the unrighteous aspects attached to each of its manifestations in the physical world.

Properties and meaning of the ideas

Schematic representation of the Platonic doctrine of ideas

The ideas as actual reality are absolute, time-independent archetypes. Since they are not subject to arising, changing or perishing, they are of divine quality. A single thing is always beautiful to a limited extent, so that beautiful things can be compared in terms of the extent of their beauty. The idea of ​​the beautiful, on the other hand, is withdrawn from such more or less, because the beautiful as an idea is absolutely beautiful (without gradation or restriction). Since ideas are real to a greater extent than the individual objects that can be perceived by the senses, they are ontologically (in the doctrine of the hierarchy of things) a higher rank than the sense objects. The ideas make up the true essence of the properties and give things their shape. As a non-changeable entity , they are the object towards which thought and knowledge are directed, because knowledge can only exist of the unchangeable, but not of ever-imperfect and changing sensory things. The objects that humans perceive owe their being to the objective being of the particular idea and their particular quality to the various ideas in which they participate. The being-based (ontological) higher ranking of ideas corresponds to a cognitive (epistemic) ranking . Any knowledge of what can be sensually experienced requires a correct understanding of the underlying idea. This Platonic notion is thus contrary to the view that the individual things make up the whole of reality and that behind the general terms there is nothing but a human need to construct categories of order to classify the phenomena.

Plato takes up the concept of a single being behind things, originally developed by Parmenides von Elea , and applies this thought to numerous philosophical questions. In the Politeia he points out that mathematicians do not clarify their axiomatic presuppositions, but rather regard them as evident . They are not interested in geometric figures, which they find more or less imperfectly in nature or which they draw themselves. For them, geometry is not about empirical but about ideal objects. It is assumed that a non-empirical object - such as the square and its diagonal - is the goal of the endeavors and not its images found in nature. Starting with this conception of the relationship between idea and image, Plato determines, for example, the beautiful in itself, the good in itself, the just in itself, or the pious in itself.

Every phenomenon of the physical world has a share in the idea whose image ( εἰκών eikṓn , εἴδωλον eídōlon ) it is. The type of participation ( μέθεξις méthexis ) determines in each individual case to what extent the object has the property that it receives from the idea. The idea is what causes something to be the way it is. Thus, the beautiful, the just or the like determines that the individual things that are perceived as beautiful, just or the same have these properties to a certain extent. A person can therefore only be called beautiful because and in so far as he participates in the idea of ​​the beautiful. The idea is also present in the respective object ( παρουσία parusía “presence”).

The problem of the term "theory of ideas" and open questions

Plato does not systematically process his comments on the ideas, he does not present a coherent teaching structure anywhere. Therefore, an understanding of what he meant can only be gained from individual statements in numerous writings, whereby only a sketchy picture emerges. The common term “doctrine of ideas”, which did not come from Plato himself, therefore does not exactly correspond to what has been handed down. Plato also uses various largely synonymous expressions for the term "idea" and constantly varies the choice of words. In the late dialogues, the doctrine of ideas does not appear in some cases, its basic features are modified or, in Timaeus, transferred to new areas such as cosmogony .

Due to the unsystematic, inconsistent and incomplete character of Plato's written thoughts on this topic, which also changed in the course of his philosophical development, numerous fundamental questions remain open that have been controversial since ancient times. It is unclear, for example, which sensory phenomena, in Plato's view, are assigned specific ideas and which are not. In the Politikos , the definition of a term and thus the existence of the idea in question seems to depend on a purely formal criterion and the question of value or rank seems to be irrelevant. In Parmenides, on the other hand, it is said that Socrates doubted the existence of ideas of individual phenomena such as fire or water and found the idea offensive that insignificant or contemptible things such as excrement or dirt were assigned own ideas. Elsewhere, Plato assumes that there are not only ideas about natural things, but also about things like tables, which in the physical world only exist as products of human ingenuity. The questions remain open as to whether ideas can be assumed from defects, imperfections and bad, and how exactly the relationship between the sense objects and their ideas is to be understood.

Soul teaching

Properties and parts of the soul

In Plato's philosophy, the soul ( ψυχή psychḗ ) as an immaterial principle of life is individually immortal. Its existence is completely independent of that of the body; it exists before its creation and continues intact after its destruction (pre- and post-existence). This gives rise to the hierarchy of the two: The body, which is subject to various impairments and ultimately to destruction, is subordinate to the immortal, indestructible soul. It is up to her to rule over him. The body is the “vessel”, the “dwelling place” of the soul, but also expressed negatively its “grave” or “prison” - a phrase that Plato has made famous.

In death the soul detaches itself from the body, what is eternally alive separates and frees itself from matter which is only animate through its influence. Released from the body, the soul can recognize in an unclouded way why the true philosopher strives for death as meaningful. However, as long as it is in the body, the soul occupies a mediating position between the world of ideas and the world of senses. Together with the physical factors and by itself, it creates perceptions, insights, opinions, affects, emotions and drives and brings about physical effects such as growth, external properties and the dissolution of body matter. Its connection with a body is only significant for the duration of a lifetime, during which it brings out its abilities such as cognitive, thinking and striving abilities and properties (virtues and vices) and experiences pleasure and pain. All the mental functions of an individual are theirs, so that she is identical to the person . Their ethical choices determine their fate after death. That is why for Plato all philosophical endeavors aim only at the soul; therefore his Socrates admonishes, "but for insight and truth and for your soul that it is in the best" to care.

From Plato's point of view, the soul does not appear as a uniform, but as a complex phenomenon. It consists of a desiring ( ἐπιθυμητικόν epithymētikón ), a courageous ( θυμοειδές thymoeidés ) and a reasonable ( λογιστικόν logistikón ) part. The three parts conflict with each other. From a philosophical point of view, the aim is to achieve harmony under the predominance of the rational. In a myth, Plato compares the parts of the soul with a horse and cart. As a charioteer, reason must direct the two very different horses of will and desire and tame desire in order to lead the soul to knowledge as the ruling force. What is desired is oriented towards sensory perception, it satisfies physical desires such as eating, drinking and procreation, or strives for a means to satisfy such desires. The will as the courageous part of the soul, on the other hand, generates opinions, recognizes the beautiful and the good (but not the beautiful and the good in itself) and makes judgmental judgments about oneself and others. Both are subordinate to the reasonable - the desire to tame its instinctual insatiability, the courageous to develop its positive qualities such as level-headed zeal, mildness, gentleness, respect and philanthropy towards negative and false zeal, mistrust and envy. The sensible shows itself in the joy of learning and recognizing the truth, in the scientific striving. In the field of ethics , the rational part of the soul characterizes the ability to recognize what is good and beneficial, and to enable the self-control of the human being by restraining the lower parts. In Plato's original doctrine of the soul, the parts of the soul form an immortal unit; In the late work Timaeus, on the other hand, he regards the lower parts of the soul and the affects, drives and negative emotions associated with them as mortal admixtures to the imperishable rational soul.

Animatedness of non-human beings and things

Plato (left) and Aristotle with the Timaeus or the Nicomachean Ethics in their hands, detailed view from Raphael's The School of Athens (1510–1511), fresco in the Stanza della Segnatura (Vatican)

Since for Plato independent movement is a defining feature of the soul, he also regards animals and stars as animated, in Timaeus also plants. The cosmos itself has reason, which has its seat in the world soul ( ψυχή τοῦ παντός psychḗ tou pantós ). A creator god, the Demiurge , formed the world soul, gave it a share in ideas and planted them in the world in order to bring reason into the whole of the world and thereby make it more perfect. The world soul is the force that moves itself and everything else. It is immanent in the world , spread everywhere in it and at the same time surrounds it. Since it participates in everything through its different components, it is able to perceive and recognize everything. Its essence is like that of human reason; hence there is correspondence between the soul of man and that of the cosmos.

Arguments for the Immortality of the Soul

The effort to prove the immortality of the soul is one of Plato's primary concerns. In the Phaedo he lets Socrates argue that opposites such as the waking state and sleep arise cyclically apart. For the step from life to death an opposite movement back to life is to be assumed; otherwise all movement of life would aim at death and definitely end with it, so that there would be no more life.

In a further argument, Plato's Socrates attributes every learning process to the fact that the soul regains knowledge which cannot be new to it; therefore she must bring this potential knowledge with her from her existence before the body came into being. Because before entering a body she saw the ideas in a “heavenly place” ( τόπος ὑπερουράνιος tópos hyperouránios ) and therefore possessed knowledge in its purest form, she can learn within her human existence by gradually becoming more falsified and impure Wisely reminds of what was once perceived ( anamnesis theory). From the existence of ideas and man's access to the knowledge they make possible, Plato concludes that the soul does not belong to the realm of the temporal.

Another argument is based on the idea that the visible is composed and therefore soluble, whereas the invisible spiritual is simple, indissoluble and imperishable. This speaks for the fact that the soul belongs to the realm of the imperishable, the nature of which resembles theirs. Another argument in the Phaedo is that opposites cannot be present at the same time; so snow is incompatible with warmth. Therefore the soul, which is simply understood as a vitalizing principle, cannot absorb death into itself. Thus death only concerns the animated body, not the principle that animates it.

In addition, Plato puts forward the thesis in the Politeia that every destructible thing is assigned an evil by which it is corrupted and destroyed. The evils that affect the soul, namely injustice and vice, make it bad, but cannot be observed to cause its destruction. Another consideration by Plato is that the soul is the source of all movement. As the bearer of the ability to always be moved by itself and to move other things, the soul must not have become and therefore be immortal.

The soul after death

Plato usually expresses himself in mythical form on the fate of the soul in the hereafter and on "becoming again" ( πάλιν γίγνεσθαι pálin gígnesthai ), the transmigration of souls . Although he does not use expressions that correspond to the terms “transmigration of souls” (in the later Greek μετεμψύχωσις metempsýchōsis , παλιγγενεσία palingenesía ) and “ beyond ”, he means, as can be seen from his remarks, their content. In doing so, he ties in with older concepts, according to which the conditions of existence after death depend on behavior in earthly life, as Pythagoras , Empedocles and Pindar already said.

In the Phaedo he describes the earth and the hereafter, which is divided into an upper and a lower area. The "real earth" is located in the upper area. There the souls freed from their bodies lead a happy life in the presence of the gods in a pure and wonderful environment until they incarnate again . In the lower area, five groups of souls experience punishment and purification, depending on the gravity of their wrongdoings in life. So the “incurable” souls sink into Tartaros , while those who have already felt repentance in their life and are guilty of “curable” sins are washed annually near Lake Acheron , where they ask their former victims for forgiveness. Only the souls that have been truly purified through philosophy are taken up by the “true earth” into a purely spiritual, beyond description, beyond.

In Gorgia's dialogue , Plato introduces the idea of ​​a judgment of the dead , which is elaborated here for the first time in Greek cultural history, in connection with older ideas of a judging function of gods. Plato's judgment of the dead consists of Minos , Rhadamanthys and Aiakos . The naked souls are examined there on the basis of their “scars” and “calluses”, which have arisen through an unjust life, and are referred to the Tartaros or the Elysion . Similarly, Plato describes in the Politeia (myth of Er) how the souls are banished to the underworld and purified or transferred to a heavenly place according to their respective way of life. After a thousand years they are led to the “spindle of the ananke” (necessity), which keeps the stars in motion. Supervised by the Moiren , they choose there from various life models that which they want to realize in the future, and go back to incarnation.

In the late work Timaeus , Plato asserts that the soul is reborn in a woman's body if it brings with it unfavorable conditions, and that rebirth can take place in an animal body if there is particular incomprehension, whereby the animal species again depends on the respective extent of the folly of the soul in the previous life depends. On the lowest level, still below the reptiles, are the aquatic animals for Plato.

Epistemology and Definitions

Definition and characteristics of knowledge and knowledge

Before philosophy historical background of confrontation with the Sophists who dealt professionally with knowledge, raises Socrates - Plato the symbol of thinking people - in Theaitetos the question of what knowledge and knowledge ( ἐπιστήμη Episteme are). First of all, he refutes the assertions “Knowledge is perception ” and “Knowledge is correct opinion”. He argues that a correct opinion cannot be called knowledge if it happens to be true. But also the traditional, in the history of philosophy classic definition of knowledge as "true opinion with justification " is rejected by the Platonic Socrates in Theaetetus . In the earlier Meno , Plato had Socrates put forward this definition; According to her, the fact that an accurate view can be justified results in knowledge and, subsequently, lasting knowledge. In Theaetetos he turns away from this, arguing that the justification of an opinion must again be justified and the justification of the justification, which would lead to an infinite recourse . The justification of an opinion consists of a combination of elements (statements) that is only accessible to understanding if their components are already known, just as one cannot recognize a syllable if one has not learned its individual letters beforehand. Therefore, the justification must be based on existing knowledge in order to give a truthful opinion the character of knowledge. The resulting statement “Knowledge is a true opinion based on knowledge” cannot be used as a definition, however, since the term to be determined is contained in the definition and this would lead to a circular argument . The dialogue ends aporetically .

In his epistemology , Plato makes a strict distinction between opinion ( δόξα dóxa ) or belief without knowledge on the one hand and true knowledge on the other. Sensory perception is not enough to get the truth, it just creates opinions. Even if an opinion is correct, it is fundamentally of a different nature and origin than insight. Access to truth and thus knowledge is only accessible to the soul in thinking that has emancipated itself as far as possible from sense perception.

Accordingly, Plato separates two realms of being: the sensually perceptible quality and the non-sensually perceptible essence. When exploring these, man takes several steps of knowledge, as Plato demonstrates in the Seventh Letter using the example of the circle:

  • At the lowest level of understanding, it is about the designation of an object, which is based solely on linguistic convention, i.e. the use of the word "circle".
  • This is followed by the definition of what is denoted by the word, for example “A circle is that which is equally far away from its center”.
  • The linguistic definition takes precedence over the sensually perceptible object, in this case a circle made by a draftsman, but which is always imperfect.
  • Conceptual knowledge, i.e. the cognitive representation of a circle, forms the penultimate step of knowledge.
  • At the highest level is the pure knowledge of reason, which grasps the idea of ​​the circle.

This distinction can also be found in the line parable . In doing so, Plato regards separate areas of being as sections on a line. The line is first divided into the main sections of the visible, i.e. the sensually perceptible, and the thinkable, that which opens up to reason. This also delimits the areas of opinion and knowledge. The section of the sensually perceptible is in turn divided into the subsection of the images (such as shadows and mirror images) and that of the body (of the sensory objects themselves), which differ in terms of clarity. The realm of the thinkable is divided into ideal geometric objects and the ideas.

These hierarchically ordered areas correspond to four levels of knowledge, ascending in their value, namely mere assumption, mere conviction, intellectual knowledge ( διάνοια diánoia ) and rational knowledge ( νόησις nóēsis ). The knowledge of the mind, realized in mathematics, is characterized by the fact that it is based on unquestioned fundamentals. She works with true opinions, which in turn are founded on evidently true opinions. Their prerequisite, however, lies outside the scope of these opinions and is therefore not considered. Only the qualitatively higher-ranking rational knowledge can rise to it.

According to Plato, every cognition, every learning takes place as a re-memory ( anamnesis , ἀνάμνησις ) of ideas which the soul saw before entering the body in a "heavenly" place and which it therefore remembers in the process of cognition. Knowledge and knowledge therefore refer to the realm of ideas. What a person has forgotten through incarnation, he can regain with the help of sensory perception and conversation and the guidance of a teacher. In the Menon, for example, Socrates leads a mathematically uneducated slave to solve a geometrical problem in order to show that the insight falls back on prenatal knowledge. The ignorant finds access to these correct ideas of what he does not know if he is stimulated accordingly, because they are present in him in a dreamlike way.

Dialectics as a method of gaining knowledge

The term dialectic is adjectival and as a noun for the first time in Plato, contrary to his other reluctance to introduce and systematically use technical terms. The Greek term hē dialektike [téchnē] ( ἡ διαλεκτική [τέχνη] ) is derived from the verb "talk, talk" ( διαλέγεσθαι dialégesthai ), and therefore is in the strict sense "(the art of) conversation." Plato probably introduced this expression to conceptually delimit the dialogical method that Platonic Socrates used especially in the early dialogues. The gain in knowledge that can be achieved through the Socratic dialectic consists primarily in the fact that unsuitable definitions are exposed as inadequate. The dialectician is characterized by the ability to delimit the essence of the objects to be defined and to successfully refute counter-arguments.

Starting from this unmasking of pseudo- knowledge , Plato arrives in the middle dialogues with a dialectic that deals with knowledge as a discursive method. With the inadequacy of both sensory perception and a true opinion, he justifies the need for a dialectic based solely on pure thought. He contrasts these with mathematics, which are dependent on axioms and require figures drawn as geometry. Plato compares the mathematicians' conception of their subject with dreams because they use even and odd numbers, types of angles and sensible constructions, which they however regard as auxiliary assumptions for axioms and ideal figures which they only find in thinking. They think they owe neither themselves nor others an account of their axioms, as if these assumptions were evident to everyone . With the help of dialectics, on the other hand, knowledge that is free of preconditions and thus genuine is to be obtained that is not based on such untested conditions. The dialectician must therefore avoid all unquestioned presuppositions. He deals with hypotheses that he openly identifies and tests as such. In this way he arrives at well-founded assumptions, which Plato understands as “stages and approaches” that lead to the “ lack of preconditions, to the beginning of everything” ( ἀρχή ἀνυπόθετος archḗ anhypóthetos ), namely the “idea of ​​the good”. From there the dialectically thinking philosopher proceeds again to the lower ideas dependent on this idea. In this way, without using sensory perception, he traverses his path of knowledge and thereby arrives at the true beginning and the highest principle, which cannot be traced back to a superordinate cause.

Plato assigns dialectics in the Politeia , the dialogue about the ideal state, a central role in the formation of philosophical rulers. After various disciplines such as arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and harmony, it marks the end of her course, the aim of which is to rise to the idea of ​​the good as the greatest subject.

Finding a definition

Within the Platonic dialectic, one can distinguish three essential methods that lead to knowledge: first, the Socratic refutation, named after Socrates, in the early dialogues, which leads to insight into one's own ignorance; second, the method of hypothesis in the middle dialogues, the tests established hypotheses, and thirdly, the method of Dihairesis in the late dialogues. In the early dialogues, in which Socrates is the main actor, the search is mostly for the definition of a term with which the essence of what is designated is to be grasped clearly and completely (for example, What is the pious? ). In the late dialogues, the Dihairesis method was a means of answering similar questions of definition. With it you get from the question What is angling? To the definition Angling is the art of wounding hunting for fish with a hook during the day for the purpose of acquisition .

Eros and aesthetics on the path of knowledge

Socrates visits Alcibiades at Aspasia , painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme , 19th century

In Plato's symposium (“Banquet”) several speakers describe and praise Eros , the daimon (spirit) of love directed towards “the beautiful”. Phaedrus emphasizes the ethical dimension of the beautiful. He points out that love promotes the pursuit of a virtuous life in those in love, since no one wants to appear ethically ugly in the eyes of his beloved, but the lovers perform beautiful deeds for the sake of their loved ones. Plato does not only use the concept of the beautiful in the narrower sense for aesthetically pleasing forms, colors or melodies. Rather, he describes as "beautiful" that which is pleasant, admirable and delightful in human character and behavior, in the state and society and beyond, purely intellectual objects of philosophical endeavors. All of this is actually of the same kind for him insofar as it triggers sensations of the same kind, and therefore falls in this respect under the common concept of the beautiful. However, not everything that pleases is beautiful; there is also an apparent beauty that creates only fleeting comfort.

In the symposium, the Platonic Socrates partly refutes the previous speakers, partly he exaggerates their statements. He allows the work of eros to extend far beyond the realm of interpersonal passion, because for Plato love is the mainspring of human striving for the beautiful and the good. These two realms are closely related aspects of the same reality, the highest form of which is spiritual, ethical and physical perfection ( Kalokagathia ). As the highest goal of human endeavor, the beautiful coincides with the good; it is the good under the aspect of its aesthetic attraction. As the son of Penia , the personification of poverty, and Poros (abundance), Eros drives people to perfect themselves in the knowledge of good and to become blissful thereby. The goal of love is “creation and birth in the beautiful”.

An external condition for the activity of eros is the presence of the beautiful ( τὸ καλόν to kalón ). In addition, in order to be receptive to beauty, the soul must have certain requirements. If a person encounters the beautiful in a form in which it occurs in the sensory world, the soul remembers the true beautiful that it saw before birth and from which it has been separated since the beginning of its earthly existence. When this happens, the effect of the beautiful inspires the soul and allows it to gradually rise to the supersensible beautiful, the idea of ​​the beautiful. At the same time she absorbs the “outflow of beauty” and shudders at it.

Thus, in ascending order, Eros is directed first to the beautiful figure present, then generally to all beautiful bodies, then to the beautiful soul , the beautiful in community and science, and finally to the idea of ​​the beautiful. In this way the reproductive striving, which is stimulated by the beauty of a body, represents the lowest level. It is superior to the desire arising from eros to acquire moral and political virtues that contribute to the beauty of the soul. The realization of the beautiful reaches its perfection only in the view of the idea of ​​the beautiful, after the viewer has freed himself from all attachment to sensual perception.

At the same time, Plato sees Eros as the decisive driving force of the philosophical striving for knowledge, because the philosopher's love is the wisdom that belongs to the most beautiful. Eros inspires the philosophizing person for the knowledge of what is truly worth striving for and thus induces him to engage in spiritual activity which is completed in the vision of ideas. The one who loves wisdom ( φιλόσοφος philósophos ) strives for knowledge because he does not yet have what he is looking for in love, that is, he is not yet wise. On the other hand, those who are either already wise like the gods or have not recognized the value of wisdom do not philosophize.


Justice as a Basic Virtue

In several dialogues, the question of the nature of justice ( δικαιοσύνη dikaiosýnē ) is a central theme. In Politeia , Plato defines justice as the willingness of a citizen to devote himself only to the tasks for which he is naturally suitable and which therefore constitute his profession and correspond to his established status, and not to interfere in other matters. Injustice therefore arises when the boundaries of the state-prescribed areas of responsibility are disregarded. Analogously, there is justice within an individual when his / her soul parts (the desires, the courageous and the reasonable) are in the right relationship to one another.

The Platonic Socrates rejects several other provisions of the just in the Politeia , including the traditional theories of justice taken up by the sophists , according to which it is just "to do good to friends and evil to enemies" or "to give everyone what is due". Socrates objects to the first-mentioned view that it can in no way be fair to harm someone; rather, such behavior is always unjust. Plato lets the sophistic interlocutor Thrasymachus characterize justice as a means of those in power and generally as that which is beneficial to the superior. The legislation of the strong determines what is just in every state. Another sophist, who appears in dialogue, sees justice as a social convention through which citizens inevitably forego the chance to do injustice in order to protect themselves against the risk of becoming victims of injustice themselves.

These sophistic definitions are unsuitable from Plato's point of view, since they explain justice as an obligation and behavior towards others, not as a quality of the soul. In contrast to Aristotle, who emphasizes that the virtue of justice can only be realized in relation to others, Plato considers justice to be an internal state of the individual, not an attitude of intention or behavior towards others. Justice is therefore a function of the soul.

Just as a person is big or small because he participates in the idea of ​​size or smallness to a certain extent, in the Platonic conception a person is just because of his participation in the idea of ​​justice. People think that everyone participates in this idea in order to be able to belong to a community, because in the community everyone must at least claim to be fair. For Plato, justice leads to eudaimonia ("bliss"); the life of an evildoer, on the other hand, is necessarily miserable. Thus justice belongs “to the most beautiful thing, namely to that which must be loved by everyone who wants to be happy, both for its own sake and because of the consequences arising from it”. At the same time, justice is a “best form” of the soul, the highest virtue ( ἀρετή aretḗ ), which unites and orders the three other basic virtues, prudence, bravery and wisdom assigned to the three parts of the soul . In the dialogue with Crito, Plato narrates that Socrates refused a possible escape in prison after being sentenced to death on the grounds that breaking the law would be unjust.

The good

Plato points beyond the question of the nature of individual virtues and what is virtuous in themselves by introducing the idea of ​​the good , which encompasses all virtues and is thus superior to them. Although Plato touches on the theme of the good in many of his dialogues, he develops his thoughts on the idea of ​​the good, that is, the good in and of itself, only in one place in the Politeia . There he presents the good as an idea that surpasses the other ideas in dignity and power and does not belong to the true being like this, but is located beyond being . The ideas are linked to one another through participation because they can be traced back to the idea of ​​the good as the supreme principle. The concept of the idea of ​​the good, which is only briefly presented, is the subject of numerous interpretations. Most scholars believe that for Plato the idea of ​​the good transcends the realm of being. However, this view is not undisputed.

In the Politeia , Plato's Socrates approaches a definition of the idea of ​​the good in three parables ( allegories of the sun , lines and caves ). In the allegory of the sun he compares the good with the sun as his “offspring”. Just as sunlight enables things to be perceived, whereas in the dark the eyesight is restricted, so other ideas can only be recognized in the light of the idea of ​​goodness. The idea of ​​the good gives things their recognizability, the knower its ability to know, all beings its being and everything - including justice - its use, since it is itself the goal and meaning of everything. Therefore their knowledge is the highest goal of the philosopher and, in the Politeia, a prerequisite for becoming ruler of the philosophers. Whoever has once gained insight into the good can no longer act against this better knowledge; the problem of akrasia (weak will, lack of self-control) does not exist for him. The good becomes an absolute reference point for practical action.

Eudaimonia and lust

Plato makes a sharp distinction between eudaimonia - the pleasant, balanced state of mind corresponding to a successful lifestyle - and physical and emotional pleasure (hēdonḗ) . The term eudaimonia is usually imprecisely translated in German as "Glück" or "Glückseligkeit". Plato considers eudaimonia to be absolutely worth striving for; Although he does not reject pleasure, he classifies legitimate psychic pleasure as a low good, and he does not attribute any value to the sensations of pleasure that result from the satisfaction of bodily needs. When reason within the soul is in control, which is the case with a philosophical lifestyle, pleasure can be experienced in a safe way.

Alignment with the deity

The essence of the philosophical way of life is determined by Plato as an adjustment or "resemblance" to the deity, "as far as this is possible" (homoíōsis theṓ katá to dynatón) . The prerequisite for this is the inherent relationship between the immortal soul and the divine. The deity, in which everything worth striving for is optimally united, offers the model that the philosophically living person imitates in that he seeks to possess the divine characteristics of virtue and knowledge as perfectly as possible. Each person imitates what he likes to and constantly deals with and thereby assumes its good or bad quality. Since the unchangeable being of the cosmos of ideas is of divine quality, the observer who turns to imitate him is himself deified. The spiritual apprehension of ideas and the action guided by such knowledge lead man to likeness to God, insofar as the conditions of life in the sense world allow this. The philosopher approaches this goal primarily through his increasing familiarity with the ideas of justice and moderation, in which the divine emerges first and foremost. An ever growing understanding of the cosmic order based on these ideas is the way of approximation, on which the perceiver and the knower bring an analogous order into his own soul. Moreover, the assimilation to the divinity moves him to take responsibility for the good condition of the sensory world.

State philosophy

Politeia , the ideal state of the philosopher rulers

The question of justice is the starting point of the Politeia (The State) , which in the tetralogical order therefore received the subtitle About the Just ( περὶ δικαίου perì dikaíou ). In this, the Platonic Socrates opposes Attic democracy with a utopian ideal state guided by the principle of justice. With this transfer to the level of the state, the question of the nature of justice, originally related to the individual, should find a more comprehensive answer. The purpose of the ideal state is to realize the idea of ​​the good on the physical plane; the implementation of justice is intended to create a prerequisite for the good life of every citizen. Just as in the cosmos and in the soul, a harmonious wholeness should also be realized in the ideal state. For Plato, there is an analogy between the individual and the state, because just as justice unfolds in the individual as a certain internal state of order, a certain order of the polis makes it a just community. Therefore, every class and every citizen has the task of contributing to the common good by fitting in and serving it in an appropriate way.

In the Politeia, Plato traces the development of a state towards its ideal model. A first, primitive state that is geared towards basic human needs, known as the “pig polis ” ( ὑῶν πόλις hyṓn pólis ), is formed because no one can be self-sufficient . As development progresses, the principle of division of labor applies due to the different requirements and talents of the citizens. The state exists, however, for the sake of a higher goal, namely justice, which is shown in the fair distribution of tasks among the classes. Everyone should exercise an activity in the state structure that corresponds to his abilities. Therefore, even a simple state can meet the demand for a just structure by enabling the fulfillment of basic needs through the principle of mutual aid. A “lush” and “swollen” state ( τρυφῶσα / φλεγμαίνουσα πόλις tryphṓsa / phlegmaínusa pólis ) develops gradually from the primitive state , in which a cultural life develops and luxury goods are available.

Structure of the ideal state according to the Politeia
was standing Soul part Virtue
Philosopher ruler the sensible wisdom
Guardian the brave bravery
Artisans and farmers the desire Prudence

Such a “swollen” city-state is threatened by disastrous developments such as power struggles, wars and emerging damage to civilization. As an alternative to this, Plato creates the utopia of a “clean” ideal state. Its citizenship is divided into the artisan and peasant class ( δημιουργοί dēmiurgoí ), the guardian ( φύλακες phýlakes ) and the philosopher rulers ( ἄρχοντες árchontes ). In order to fulfill their status-specific tasks, every citizen needs one of the cardinal virtues prudence ( σωφροσύνη sōphrosýnē ), bravery ( ἀνδρεία andreía ) and wisdom ( σοφία sophía ). Thus the three virtues as well as the three parts of the soul (the desire, the brave and the reasonable) are also assigned to the three parts of citizenship. Justice arises from the fact that everyone does what corresponds to his nature and talents on behalf of the community ( τὰ ἑαυτοῦ πράττειν tà heautû práttein ; Idiopragic demand).

On the grounds that fate gave people different abilities before they were born, Plato envisages a screening process for classifying citizens into the three classes. Class affiliation is not hereditary in the Platonic state, but is assigned according to personal performance in the educational process. For this purpose, the newborn child is taken away from the parents and entrusted to educators, whereby no distinction should be made between boys and girls. This is intended to create a large community in which the children do not develop any bonds with their biological relatives. The state plans and directs reproduction, prescribes or prohibits it, both for the purpose of eugenics and to keep the population constant. The upbringing of the offspring is the sole responsibility of the state authorities; As in Sparta, disabled babies and newborns arising from undesired connections should not be raised, but rather "hidden", that is, exposed. The abandonment or killing of infants with congenital defects is a common practice in ancient times.

Plato attaches particular importance to physical fitness and musical training. Anyone who leaves the education system early because of inadequate performance becomes a farmer or craftsman. Private property and family will remain for this stand. Strict censorship prohibits reading Homer, which is viewed as pernicious, as well as some traditional myths . In particular, those passages in epics , tragedies and comedies are to be erased which instill fear of death, stimulate high spirits or violate moral ideas. Talent makes it possible to advance to the two upper classes. In these a community of property and family is prescribed; therefore in the modern age one speaks of "platonic communism ".

The training of the guards is aimed at their special tasks: as warriors they are responsible for national defense, they also function internally as an executive body . Only the most able are included in the rank of ruler. They come to the government of the state after they have received instruction in music and gymnastics, then in mathematics and other sciences, and finally in dialectics , as well as having come to the “vision of ideas” and of the good itself and having held various offices. Plato demands a love of wisdom from those in power. They are supposed to implement the rule of the philosophers , which in the Platonic state represents the prerequisite for a perfect community: “As long as the philosophers do not become kings in the states or those who are now called kings and rulers become genuine and thorough philosophers, as long as the power in the State and philosophy have merged, as long as the current characters, who mostly exclusively focus on one of the two, are not closed by force, as long as there is, my dear Glaukon, no redemption from evil for the states, but I don't believe either for mankind, this constitution, as we have just presented it, will become a possibility beforehand and will see the sunlight. "

For the Greek society of his time, Plato's opinion was unusual that the role of women should not be restricted to gender-specific activities, but that women should take on the same tasks as men as far as possible. As far as their natural abilities would allow, they were even to be trained as guards and as such went to war with the men.

Nomoi , the second best state

In his late work Nomoi (The Laws) , Plato modified his first concept of the state, which he now regarded as all too utopian, and devised a more realistic model. In particular, he gives up the community of property, although he continues to regard the state, which is oriented towards collective property among the ruling class, as the best possible. The “second best” state should orient itself towards the goals of the Politeia , but reduce the very high demands on the citizens in the older concept. There is no philosophical rule in the Nomoi , rather Plato gives all citizens the opportunity to participate, since unlimited power corrupts everyone. In order for this temptation not to get out of hand, the laws of the state must rule and support it. In addition to very detailed explanations of upbringing, gymnastics and the correct way of life, the nomoi also contain specific explanations of the necessary legislation.

Understanding of art

As a writer of prose and occasionally also poetry, Plato was a highly gifted artist, and as an educated esthete turned to the beautiful. From a philosophical point of view, however, his relationship to art - both the visual and the performing arts , music and literature - was ambivalent, and in large part even negative. His criticism of the art that he developed in connection with his state philosophy has caused a sensation since ancient times. Because of the extraordinarily strong effect of art on sensitive minds, he represented the conviction in the Politeia that the state must regulate art in order to prevent the disastrous effects of harmful art forms on the community. Therefore, in his ideal state, he only allowed certain keys and musical instruments. He would not tolerate poets who created undesirable works there. Only the traditional, the tried and tested and the simple found his approval; He did not want to know anything about innovations, as they could impair the harmonious, stable ideal state of society once it had been achieved.

Plato preferred the beauty of geometric forms to that of living beings or works of art, since these are only relatively beautiful, while certain regular geometric figures are absolutely beautiful. Order, measure (appropriateness) and harmonic proportions ( συμμετρία symmetría ) were decisive criteria for beauty for him, since they gave things unity; arbitrary deviation from this norm and indulgence must result in ugliness.

Plato's disapproval of the visual arts was based on his conviction that in the hierarchical order of being the relatively lower is only an image of the relatively higher and as such is to a certain extent less perfect in comparison with it. Thus, true human striving for improvement could only mean turning away from images and turning to archetypes. However, since both painting and sculpture were nothing but imitations of nature for Plato ( mimesis concept) and nature itself was an image of the world of ideas, he saw in dealing with such arts only a path from the archetype to the image and thus a descent and an aberration. From his point of view, such works of art were at best true copies and thus unnecessary duplications of originals, which they could never surpass. In addition, Plato saw such artistic creation as a gimmick and a pastime, a distraction from important tasks. He particularly sharply condemned works of fine art with which the artist does not even strive to imitate natural things as faithfully as possible, but rather to create illusions or express the subjective. He condemned this as culpable misleading. He understood aesthetics to be an objective fact in which there should be no subjective element. His derogatory judgment did not concern the architecture , which he did not count among the imitative (mimetic), but among the "creative" (poietic) arts, which produce real things instead of just depicting them.

His criticism of certain forms of music and of poetry began mainly on another point, namely on the demoralizing effect which he attributed to them. With this argument he turned against the Lydian key, against flute music and against poems like those of Homer and Hesiod . He believed that bad music intensified lower affects, threatened the rule of reason over emotional life and thus spoiled character, while bad poetry spread lies. On the other hand, he assessed other keys, religious hymn poems and poems of praise for good people positively and ascribed them a positive influence on character formation. What he found to be good in poetry he did not consider to be the poets' own achievements, but attributed it to divine inspiration. To describe the enthusiasm that arises from such work, he used the ambivalent, positive term rage ( μανία manía ); in the inspired poet he saw a mediator between gods and men. He distinguished the poetic forms according to the extent of the mimetic part in them. He completely rejected the drama as a scenic and therefore purely mimetic form and direct reproduction, especially since it also included characters with questionable or bad characters, whose imitation by actors he considered to be harmful to character. He considered the narrative and only indirectly reproducing poetry forms with a low mimesis component ( dithyrambos , epic poems ) to be acceptable, provided that the content was not morally objectionable.

Natural philosophy

Medieval manuscript of the Latin Timaeus translation by Calcidius

In the Phaedo , the Platonic Socrates vividly reports how in his youth he hoped to find the cause of all things in natural history, and how he was disappointed in the process. Even the natural philosopher Anaxagoras only dealt with the sensually perceptible and did not answer the real “why”. Here Plato's distance from natural science becomes clear; His real interest is in the spiritual and - for the purpose of introducing it - mathematics. The subject of natural science, on the other hand, is the empirical world of phenomena ( φύσις phýsis "nature"), that is, from Plato's point of view, a mere image of pure ideas, to which he only grants a deficit being.

According to the Timaeus , the mythical Demiurge (creator, literally “master craftsman”, “specialist”) shaped the material world out of primordial matter. According to the conviction of the ancient Platonists and also according to the understanding prevailing in research today, this statement should not be understood literally in the sense of a world originating in time, but rather metaphorically ; creation is not a one-time event, but an ongoing process. The state of the world results from the meeting of two opposing factors, namely the reasonable influence of the demiurge, who orientates himself on the world of ideas and wants to achieve the best possible, and the chaotic, irregular character of primordial matter, which is the creative and regulating activity of the Opposed to demiurge resistance. The matter is not created by the demiurge, but forms an independent basis for his work. He is not an omnipotent creator god, but, as it were, a divine master builder who is dependent on the available defective material, from which he can manufacture something as far as possible. Therefore Plato compares the primordial matter ( χώρα chóra ) with raw material as it is available to craftsmen ( ὕλη hylē ). According to its original nature , it is amorphous , but can be shaped and shaped.

Primordial matter has a spatial quality, but this is not to be understood in the sense of an empty space; rather it can be viewed as a field which, according to Plato, already shows traces of the ( Empedoclean ) elements . It is the joyful “womb of becoming” from which the body emerges, the purely receiving, which - even formless - absorbs all forms. Fire, air, water and earth are the four basic forms of matter created by the demiurge, which, with the exception of earth, can transform into one another. These four elements consist of four types of regular polyhedra , which in turn are composed of two types of small right-angled isosceles triangles - a type of geometric atom. The elementary triangles, as the simplest geometric figures, are the basic building blocks, the various combinations of which result in the diversity of material objects, such as the aggregate states of water or the gradations of solidity from earth to stone. With this cosmology Plato belongs together with Democritus to the creators of the idea of ​​an atomic structure of matter and the elements and is the founder of a mathematical atomism .

Tetrahedron.gif Octahedron.gif Icosahedron.gif Dodecahedron.gif Hexahedron.gif
Tetrahedron - fire Octahedron - air Icosahedron - water Dodecahedron - cosmos Cube - earth

A main characteristic of the Platonic cosmos is that it is not dead, but animated, alive and endowed with reason, an eternal, perfect being. He owes this to the world soul , which permeates and envelops him. The world soul is the principle of world movement and life.

Only occasionally did Plato express himself under the influence of Pythagorean science on questions of the natural sciences, although he liked to choose the mythical form of the presentation. In the final myth of the Politeia there is a model for the planetary movements. Plato also went into the field of natural science with his attempt in Timaeus to anatomically locate the parts of the soul. He localizes the knowing part of the soul in one place in the head, the courageous part of the soul in a place between the neck and diaphragm near the heart and the desiring part of the soul under the rule of the liver between the diaphragm and the navel.

Unwritten teaching

The dialogues do not represent the entire philosophy of Plato, but only the part intended for written dissemination. This particularly shows the well-attested existence of his public lecture On the Good , which dealt with a central topic but was never brought to the public in writing. His pupil Aristotle already reports on Plato's “unwritten teachings” ( ἄγραφα δόγματα ágrapha dógmata ). It was subject matter that was only given orally to advanced students in the academy . Plato was generally skeptical about the usefulness of a written discourse and was convinced that certain findings on very demanding topics were fundamentally unsuitable for written presentation and dissemination, since an understanding of these topics requires a special qualification on the part of the learner and can only be obtained in a conversation situation could. However, this is not to be understood in the sense of a confidentiality regulation or a ban on written records; rather, students at the academy kept records, the existence of which is evident from a series of information from ancient sources.

Research discussions

Much research today believes that the content of the teachings reserved for oral communication went well beyond what was presented in the dialogues. It is disputed whether Plato claimed to be in possession of certain truth with his unwritten doctrine, whether he was a “ dogmatist ” and epistemological optimist or only put hypotheses up for discussion with his students. In any case, the unwritten doctrine is not to be understood as a rigid, doctrinally fixed and authoritarian proclaimed system. Rather, it was open to critical examination. The historians of philosophy are of very different opinion on the question of whether it was a question of a developed system or just a conceptual approach. It is also controversial whether the unwritten doctrine is compatible with Plato's other philosophy and whether it was combined with it to form a consistent model of the world.

An ongoing lively debate in research revolves around the question of whether and to what extent unwritten teaching can be reconstructed and forms the core of Platonic philosophy. The scholars of the so-called "Tübingen School", to which Hans Joachim Krämer , Konrad Gaiser and Thomas A. Szlezák belong, affirm these assumptions with great confidence, and other researchers such as Jens Halfwassen have also explained in detail why they consider the unwritten teaching for the most important Keep part of Plato's teaching and interpret his entire work in the light of this assessment. Michael Erler , Vittorio Hösle , Detlef Thiel, Rafael Ferber , Herwig Görgemanns , Karl Albert , Heinz Happ , Klaus Oehler , John Niemeyer are among the numerous scholars among whom the Tübingen image of Plato has met with approval - albeit with some reservations and reservations Findlay , Willy Theiler , Hans-Georg Gadamer and Christina Schefer. Since the Milanese historian of philosophy Giovanni Reale has also spoken out strongly in favor of this view and researchers from his environment have agreed, one speaks today of a "Tübingen and Milan School".

The opposing position of the skeptics, who question the existence or at least the philosophical relevance and the ability to reconstruct an unwritten teaching of Plato, has found supporters especially in the English-speaking world. In the USA, Harold Cherniss and Gregory Vlastos have distinguished themselves as particularly determined representatives of this direction. In German-language research on Plato, among others, Theodor Ebert , Dorothea Frede , Andreas Graeser , Ernst Heitsch , Franz von Kutschera , Günther Patzig and Wolfgang Wieland reject the positions of the "Tübingen School".

The primal principles

The reconstructed unwritten doctrine deals with the role of the highest principle, the absolutely transcendent one , which is equated with the idea of ​​the good, and with the question of its recognizability and communicability. Through the identification of the one with the good there is a connection between ontology and ethics . Ultimately, the concept aims at a unified theory of everything. The one is considered the cause of the entire hierarchy of beings, to which it itself does not belong, to which it is rather higher. Since the one, as the supreme principle, cannot be derived from anything else, its essence can only be determined negatively.

World structure according to Plato's "unwritten teaching"

First principle (unity)
The one, the good, the beautiful

idea true being Absoluteness, being in itself, perfection unmoved
soul mathematics Medium status self-moved
matter Perceptible Impermanence, becoming, imperfect alienated
Second principle (indefinite duality)

Just as the doctrine of ideas traces the area of ​​the sensually perceptible back to the world of ideas, the unwritten doctrine traces the diversity of ideas back to two simple original principles which are supposed to explain the existence of ideas and thus also that of sense objects. In this model the whole variety of recognizable phenomena rests on the opposing relation of the two original principles. This is why the unwritten doctrine is also called the doctrine of principles or "protology" (doctrine of the first). The first principle is the one, the basic requirement of any unity. It has its correspondence ontologically in being, formally and logically in identity, absoluteness and indivisibility, valuable in virtue and order, cosmologically in calm, permanence and immortality, mentally in the turn to ideas. The second principle is called indefinite duality. It has its correspondence ontologically in nonbeing, formal-logical in diversity, relativity and divisibility, valuable in badness and disorder, cosmological in movement, change and transience, psychologically in the instinctual, body-bound affects. The first principle enables limitation and thus determination and formedness, the second stands for limitless expansion, indeterminacy and unformedness. The interaction of the two principles enables the existence of all things that are. The lower something is ontological, the stronger the presence of the second principle emerges.

How one should imagine the relationship between the two original principles is not clear from the sources. What is certain is that the one is assigned a higher rank than the indefinite duality. Because of the unique role of the One, who is the only principle absolutely transcendent, the doctrine of principles can ultimately be described as a monistic model. However, it also has a dualistic aspect, because the indefinite duality is also understood as an indispensable original principle. The fundamental meaning of both original principles results in a “bipolar structure of the real”, but it should always be noted that the two poles are not balanced.

The epistemological aspect

Whether Plato considered intuitive, direct access to the highest principle possible and claimed it for himself, is controversial, as is the question of whether he even assumed an intuition that was independent of dialectical art and in what proportion the intuitive knowledge, if any to the discursive process . Researchers like Peter Stemmer argue against the assumption of an intuitive grasp of the idea of ​​the good , who assumes a restriction to dialectics as the only path of knowledge and therefore assumes that Plato is deeply skeptical about the possibility of determining the idea of ​​the good with knowledge. Jens Halfwassen is a consistent representative of the opposing position. He traces the Neoplatonic doctrine of the intuitive contemplation of the one and the good, which presupposes a self-abolition of dialectical thinking, to Plato himself and thus rehabilitates the Neoplatonic understanding of Plato. Christina Schefer goes even further in this direction. She provides evidence for her view, according to which the center of Plato's thinking was neither the written doctrine of ideas nor the unwritten doctrine, but an "inexpressible" religious experience, the theophany of the god Apollo . In this interpretation of Plato, the unwritten teaching also takes on the character of something preliminary.


With his versatile work, Plato influenced the entire history of philosophy in a variety of ways. Above all, with his assumption of an independently existing spiritual reality, he shaped the development of the discipline that was later called metaphysics . His profound impact on posterity was and is to a large extent also due to his stylistic skills. The “Socratic dialogue” as a literary form is his creation.


In ancient times, Plato was considered a master of dialogue. His dialogues were valued more than the works of other Socratics and the writings of his best-known student Aristotle , which were intended for a wider readership and which , unlike his specialist textbooks, have not survived.


Aristotle, Roman copy (1st or 2nd century), Louvre

Even after leaving Plato's school, Aristotle stuck to essential parts of the Platonic body of thought. However, he rejected some of the core elements of Platonism, including the acceptance of independently existing ideas which lead to an unnecessary duplication of things, the immortality of the individual soul and the principle that man acts against the good only out of ignorance (problem of akrasia ). He emphatically opposed Plato's doctrine of the state, especially against the demand for community of goods made in the Politeia . He developed his own philosophy in a critical examination of Platonism.

Aristotle's sometimes harsh criticism of Plato's views, his emphatic distancing from some of his teacher's convictions, accentuates the differences between them and lets the weighty similarities that exist, as well, take a back seat. The opposition between Platonism and Aristotelianism runs through the history of philosophy, with some attempts at mediation, and some Platonists and Aristotelians attaching importance to clear, sometimes sharp and polemical delimitation of their positions.


The institutional sponsor of Plato's philosophy was initially the Platonic Academy , which, with its successor foundations in Athens, existed for almost a millennium, albeit with long interruptions. During the Roman Empire , Alexandria and Rome were the most important centers of Platonism alongside Athens; the schools outside Athens were never called "academy".

Whether the elaboration of Plato's thoughts into a complete system of philosophical explanation of the world was already advanced by himself in the so-called unwritten doctrine or only began after his death is controversial. The Tübingen school and the research connected to it assume that the system formation was already given by Plato himself. Gregory Vlastos and, in German-speaking countries, Kurt von Fritz , Peter Stemmer and Jürgen Mittelstrass represented the opposite position . According to their opinion, it was not until Plato's successors in the "Old Academy", which until 268/264 BC Was a systematic teaching. In the "Younger Academy" (also called "Middle Academy"), which was subsequently founded by Arkesilaos von Pitane, there was a change of course. With reference to the Socratic aporeticism , a skeptical basic direction in epistemology was followed and the accessibility of secure knowledge was denied. The turmoil of the First Mithridatic War , in which the Romans 86 BC BC conquered Athens, put an end to teaching in the academy.

Middle Platonism

Antiochus of Askalon undertook a fresh start with an emphatic departure from the skeptical attitude that he considered to be unplatonic. He founded a new school, which he called Plato's “Old Academy” in the sense of a return to the original concept. One of his students was Cicero , who was born in 79 BC. BC stayed in Athens. This began the period of Middle Platonism , whose representatives dealt in particular with theological and cosmological questions. The Middle Platonists took up some Stoic and Aristotelian ideas, which they believed were consistent with Plato's teaching. In addition, there was also a direction represented by Numenios , which wanted to return to the original doctrine of Plato and purge Platonism of Stoic and Aristotelian "heresy".


Presumed representation of Plotinus on a sarcophagus in the Museo Gregoriano Profano, Vatican Museums

Neo-Platonism emerged around the middle of the 3rd century . This modern term, which was first coined in the 19th century, denotes a trend that particularly emphasized the metaphysical and religious aspects of the Platonic tradition and designed detailed models of a hierarchical world order. This trend played a dominant role in the philosophy of late antiquity . As the founder of Neo-Platonism is considered - along with his teacher Ammonius Sakka - Plotinus , who founded a school in Rome. But Plotinus did not see himself as an innovator, but only wanted to be a faithful interpreter of Plato's teaching. His most prominent student was Porphyrios , who defended religious Platonism against the growing Christianity in a martial pamphlet. A pupil of Porphyrios, Iamblichus of Chalkis , refined the system, rejecting some of the views of Plotinus and Porphyrios. He had a decisive influence on the Neoplatonic school of Athens, founded around 410, which renewed the tradition of the academy there after a long break. Alexandria, where Plotinus had studied, was also an important center of late ancient Neo-Platonism. This last bloom of Neoplatonism lasted until the early 6th century. Among the late Neo-Platonists, Proclus had the greatest aftereffect; prominent philosophers from the school of Athens were Damascius and Simplikios .

The Platonists in the philosophical schools of Rome, Athens and Alexandria were almost all sharp opponents of Christianity, which they considered to be incompatible with the teachings of Plato. In the last phase of its existence the Neoplatonic school of Athens was the most important refuge of spiritual resistance against Christianity; therefore, in 529 , Emperor Justinian I ordered its closure.

Church fathers

Concepts of Plato and his school flowed into Christian philosophy in the epoch of late antique patristicism via the church fathers , mostly without reference to their origin. Prominent Greek-speaking church writers such as Clement of Alexandria , Origen , Basilius the Great and Gregory of Nyssa resorted to the Platonic world of thought and terminology in their theological works . Among the Latin-speaking church fathers, who mostly had no direct knowledge of the dialogues, a negative attitude dominated, fed by a deep contempt for all non-Christian philosophy. In the east as in the west of the empire, the opinion was widespread that Plato was the best of the pre-Christian philosophers, but that all pagan endeavors for knowledge and wisdom were misguided and pernicious or, at best, represented a deficient, outdated preliminary stage of true Christian knowledge.

However, Augustine of Hippo , the long-term most influential church father in the West, held a special position with regard to the reception of Plato. He dealt intensively with Plato and Neoplatonic philosophy, received essential suggestions and expressed his appreciation for individual Platonic teachings. But he also described in detail the weighty differences between his Christian position and that of Plato.

middle Ages

In the early Middle Ages and up to the middle of the 12th century, the Latin-speaking scholarly world of Western and Central Europe only knew of the works of Plato as Timaeus in the incomplete Latin translations by Calcidius and Cicero ; it was only distributed in a few manuscripts. Nevertheless, Platonic influences had a strong indirect impact on intellectual life, since in addition to Augustine, other ancient writers popular at the time, such as Macrobius , Martianus Capella and above all Boethius, conveyed Platonic ideas. As an alleged student of the Apostle Paul, Pseudo-Dionysius Areopagita , a church writer of the early 6th century who was very strongly influenced by Neo-Platonism, was in high regard. He made a significant contribution to the Platonic form of medieval theology. The philosophy of the Irish thinker Johannes Scottus Eriugena , who lived in the 9th century and represented such a consequent Neoplatonism, that his work was condemned by the church for it, was particularly deeply influenced by the works of Pseudo-Dionysius .

Medieval Platonism , which originated from Timaeus , experienced a marked upswing in the 12th century through the " School of Chartres ". It was a circle of philosophers and theologians in Chartres who were more or less strongly Platonic thinking, and which the famous philosopher Bernhard von Chartres († after 1124) who taught there had brought into being. Bernhard was considered the most important Platonist of his era. His pupils included Wilhelm von Conches and Gilbert von Poitiers . Other prominent representatives of this direction were Thierry von Chartres and Bernardus Silvestris . The Platonists in Chartres dealt in detail with the similarities and differences between the cosmology of Timaeus and the Christian doctrine of creation and tried to harmonize them. Another focal point was the Platonic concept of beauty.

When, with the translation movement of the 12th and 13th centuries, the works of Aristotle increasingly found their way into Latin translation and became the basis of scholastic science, this led to a triumphant advance of Aristotelianism and to the suppression of Platonism, which however continued - especially in Neoplatonic Shape - remained present. The ancient antagonism between Platonism and Aristotelianism revived as early as the High Middle Ages and especially in the late Middle Ages . It was the basis of the problem of the medieval universal dispute. Confusion was created by the fact that the very influential Neoplatonic writing Liber de causis ("Book of Causes") was mistakenly considered the work of Aristotle. In the late 13th and 14th centuries, Aristotelianism continued to dominate universities, but neo-Platonist thinkers such as Dietrich von Freiberg , Meister Eckhart and Berthold von Moosburg also emerged outside of university operations among religious scholars . Nikolaus von Kues also belonged to this Neoplatonic movement in the 15th century .

In the Byzantine Empire , the scholar Stephanos of Alexandria gave lectures on topics of Platonic philosophy in Constantinople in the 7th century; Otherwise, there was no in-depth discussion of Plato between the closure of the Academy in the 6th century and the middle of the 11th century. However, Neoplatonic influence made itself felt through the teachings of the pseudo-Dionysius Areopagita, for example in the iconoclast , in which the ultimately victorious adherents of image worship made use of a Neoplatonic argumentation. Byzantium owed a revival of the studies of Plato to the important scholar and statesman Michael Psellos († after 1077), who even came under suspicion of lack of orthodoxy because of his preference for Platonism.

Plato was also received in the Arabic-speaking world of the Middle Ages. In the 9th century, several dialogues were translated into Arabic ( Politeia , Nomoi , Timaeus , Sophistes ) in the translation school of the Nestorian Hunayn ibn Ishaq in Baghdad . Muslim philosophers such as al-Fārābī in the 10th century and Avicenna in the 11th century dealt with Neoplatonism. The works of the universal scholar Avicenna had a Latin translation on Western philosophy, which was indirectly exposed to an additional Platonic influence.

Early modern age

Marsilio Ficino in the Florence manuscript, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana , Plut. 82.15, fol. 1r (15th century)

The “rebirth” of ancient education and the “return to the sources” in Renaissance humanism also had an impact on Plato's reception. In the 15th century, the dialogues of Plato, largely unknown in the West, and works by Neoplatonists were discovered in Greek manuscripts, translated into Latin and commented on. Numerous precious classic manuscripts came to Italy from the declining Byzantine Empire. Knowledge of the original works of Plato did not lead to a distancing from Neoplatonism, rather the humanists' interpretation of Plato was based on the still living Neoplatonic Christian tradition, especially since its representatives could refer to the authority of the Neoplatonic Church Fathers. The contrast between Plato and Aristotle continued to form a problem that was articulated in the dispute over the primacy of one or the other. Sometimes the humanists took sides with Plato or Aristotle, sometimes they took mediating positions. Plato's works were far better suited than those of Aristotle to address the humanists' pronounced sense of literary aesthetics; Moreover, the scholastic science despised by the humanists was Aristotelian.

Probably the most consistent Platonist among the humanists was the Byzantine scholar Georgios Gemistos Plethon , who stayed temporarily in Italy and impressed the humanists there. He followed the Platonic doctrine so radically that even in religious terms he drew the consequence of renouncing Christianity and professing the religion of the ancient Platonists. In the treatise on the differences between Aristotle and Plato , a martial script, written in Florence in 1439 , he defended the teachings of Plato against the criticism of Aristotle.

The famous Florentine humanist and Plato translator Marsilio Ficino endeavored to renew Platonism on a Neoplatonic basis, starting out particularly from Plotinus. However, as recent research has shown, there was no “Platonic Academy” as a permanent establishment in Florence, but only a loose circle of more or less Platonic-minded humanists without an institutional framework.

In the 17th century, the circle of the " Cambridge Platonists " was formed in Cambridge , to which Ralph Cudworth and Henry More belonged. These philosophers strove to harmonize religion and science, for which Neoplatonism seemed to offer them a suitable basis.

In the Age of Enlightenment , the view that Plato's philosophy was out of date dominated, a wrong track and only of historical interest. A reference to reality was largely denied in his metaphysics in particular . Voltaire turned against Platonic ontology, against the doctrine of ideas and against the cosmological way of thinking outlined in Timaeus . In the short satirical story Songe de Platon he mocked Plato's idea of ​​the creation of the world and characterized him as a dreamer. In the 18th century, however, Plato's aesthetics and his concept of love met with approval (for example with Frans Hemsterhuis and Johann Joachim Winckelmann ), which was reflected in a preference for the relevant dialogues ( symposium , Phaedrus ).


The aspects that came to the fore in modern times were, on the one hand, the search for the historical Plato in classical antiquity , and, on the other hand, the question of the possibility of a permanent topicality of his thinking under the conditions of modern philosophizing.

Classical research

Friedrich Schleiermacher, portrait by Hugo Bürkner

In the English-speaking world, the influential scholar Thomas Taylor (1758–1835) contributed significantly to the spread of an image of Plato strongly influenced by the traditional Neoplatonic perspective through his Plato translations, which had a long lasting effect. He also linked personally to the religious views of the ancient Neo-Platonists. At the same time, an opposite development began in German antiquity; Efforts were made to work out the historical figure of Plato and to precisely delimit his authentic thinking from all later interpretations and systematization efforts of the Platonic Academy and the Neoplatonists. Friedrich August Wolf (1759–1824) edited individual dialogues, his student Immanuel Bekker (1785–1871) published a critical complete edition of the works in 1816–1823 - the first since 1602.

The German translations of most of Plato's works, published by the theologian and philosopher Friedrich Schleiermacher from 1804, had an extraordinarily large and lasting effect . Schleiermacher was convinced that Plato had worked out his writings according to a preconceived plan in a fixed order, that each dialogue was based on the previous one and that they represented a coherent whole. There was no unwritten doctrine that went beyond Plato's written philosophy. Schleiermacher and his friend, the early romantic Friedrich Schlegel , were among the leading representatives of the then strong current, which criticized the efforts to open up a philosophical system of Plato behind the dialogues and left the interpretation to the reader. Instead of investigating the question of a teaching structure, emphasis was placed on the dialogical character of Platonic philosophizing. For Schleiermacher, the form of dialogue and content are inseparable; the form results from Plato's conviction that grasping a foreign thought is a self-achievement of the soul; therefore one must understand the dialogues as conceived to move the reader to this activity. In his dialogue theory Schleiermacher started from a didactic intention of Plato, which underlies the arrangement of the dialogue work. For him it was not about a reflection of Plato's own development in the chronological order of his works. It was not until Karl Friedrich Hermann in 1839, in a dispute with Schleiermacher, that the idea of ​​development came up. He divided the philosophical development of Plato into phases, to which he assigned the dialogues.

In 1919, the classical philologist Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff published his extensive biography of Plato, in which he worked out the course of his life and paid tribute to the works from a philological point of view. There he also dealt with the question of the authenticity of some of the writings ascribed to Plato, which some scholars doubted, and which had already been lively discussed in the 19th century. In the 20th century, researchers managed to reach consensus on most of the works and to limit the escalating debate about authenticity to a few dialogues and letters. In the second half of the century, preoccupation with the unwritten doctrine of principles, which had previously mostly been met with great skepticism, became very important. Questions about their relevance and reconstructability were among the intensely and controversially discussed topics of Plato research, a consensus has not been reached.

Reception of Plato as a philosopher and writer

For Hegel , the late dialogues ( Parmenides , Sophistes , Philebos ) were in the foreground. They interested him from the point of view of dialectics , for he regarded Plato's dialectics as the forerunner of his own system. Schelling was more influenced by Plato and Neoplatonism . He resorted to terms such as that of the world soul, changing their meaning.

Widespread worship of Plato in the 19th and early 20th centuries also related to his style. The dialogues were read as literary works of art and the correspondence between literary form and philosophical content was praised. In addition to the beauty theme, the love theme, which already played an important role in Hölderlin 's reception of Plato , received special attention. The poet Percy Bysshe Shelley was also one of the Platonists . But not only poets and romantics, but also philologists were enthusiastic about the writer Plato. Wilamowitz-Moellendorff said that Plato's most successful dialogues “[...] in terms of genuine artistic value are still the most perfect prose poetry today, so they will probably remain until the last day. In a sense, her style was not a style at all, because it was always different. Everything could be said in him that a brain can think and a heart can feel, and it could be said in every key, tragic and funny, pathetic and ironic. "

Wilamowitz admired both the literary and philosophical achievements of Plato. His contemporary and opponent Nietzsche, on the other hand, criticized both of them with devastating criticism:

“It seems to me that Plato throws up all the forms of style, making him a first decadent of the style: he has something on his conscience similar to that of the cynics who invented the satura Menippea . You never have to have read good French people that the Platonic Dialogue, this terribly self-satisfied and childlike type of dialectic, can act as a stimulus - Fontenelle, for example. Plato is boring. - Finally, my mistrust goes deeper with Plato: I find him so strayed from all the basic instincts of the Hellenes , so mororalized , so pre-existent Christian - he already has the term “good” as the highest concept - that I am aware of the whole phenomenon of Plato rather the harsh word "higher vertigo" or, if you prefer to hear it, idealism - than anyone else would like to use. "

For Nietzsche, the Platonic Socrates is a representative of the “ slave and herd morality” and as such a denier of the “principle of life”, which opposes the will to power . While Plato puts the superior individual in the service of the state, Nietzsche advocates a reversed hierarchy. Nietzsche condemns Plato's turning away from the world of the senses, which he interprets as a flight into the realm of ideas. From his point of view, man's cognitive abilities do not arise from a higher spiritual sphere, but are only tools of the blind will that uses them to appropriate the world. Therefore he uses Plato's terminology ironically to reverse the hierarchical order of values ​​of Platonism: “My philosophy, upside down Platonism: the further away from what is true, the purer, more beautiful, and better it is. Life in appearance as the goal. "

While with Plato philosophy stands above art because it deals directly with ideas, for Nietzsche art stands above philosophy because the all-driving will can only be revealed through artistic access to the world. The will can only be captured in the "artistic appearance".

If Nietzsche wanted to free himself from Platonism through this radical revaluation, for Martin Heidegger he nevertheless remains within the horizon of a Platonic tradition that divides the world into sensual and spiritual and which must be overcome. In Plato's metaphysical assumption that the sensual and the spiritual belong to separate spheres of being and that there is a hierarchical order between them, Heidegger sees the beginning of a process of decline in the history of Western philosophy, which reached a final climax with Nietzsche. Like Plato, Nietzsche also tries to trace everything that exists back to a single, true being, namely the blind will to power. Heidegger sums up: “[...] consequently Nietzsche describes his own philosophy as reverse Platonism. Because Platonism, Nietzsche's philosophy is also metaphysics. "

In the “Marburg School” of Neo-Kantianism , a new interpretation of the theory of ideas was undertaken, the main representative of which was Paul Natorp . Natorp tried to reconcile the Platonic philosophy with the Kantian. According to his interpretation, the Platonic ideas are to be understood as rules, laws, hypotheses or methods of thinking.

The Russian religious philosopher Vladimir Sergejewitsch Solowjow († 1900), who studied Plato and translated it into Russian, represented a radical counter-position to the emphatic turning away from Platonism by many modern thinkers . He was heavily influenced by Platonic metaphysics. He was particularly impressed by Plato's idea of ​​a deified human being who approached the deity. In other respects, too, Plato's ideas found favor with individual Eastern European philosophers. One of them was mainly Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (1850-1937), the founder of Czechoslovakia.

Since practically all topics that play a role in the history of philosophy can already be found in Plato, the British philosopher and mathematician Alfred North Whitehead pointed out in 1929 that the European philosophical tradition consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.

During the Second World War, Karl Popper , the founder of Critical Rationalism , wrote a fundamental criticism of Plato's theory of the state under the influence of the political conditions at the time. He saw the Platonic ideal state as a counter-model to a democratic, open society whose pioneer was Pericles , and claimed that Plato had perverted the teachings of Socrates and turned them into their opposite. Plato reduced the search for a superior state order to the question of power instead of asking for institutions that could limit rule and prevent the abuse of power. With his concept of a small, static, self-contained corporate state, he was a forerunner of modern totalitarianism and an enemy of individualism and humanity . In addition, Popper turned against the unchangeable character of the Platonic idea of ​​the good. His pamphlet sparked a lively debate.

In many modern contexts, the term “Platonism” is used for any kind of metaphysical realism of terms or universals, since these “realistic” positions (“universal realism”) have a more or less distant similarity to Plato's doctrine of ideas Main part of his philosophy is known.

Complete editions and translations

The works of Plato are still cited today according to the number of pages and sections of the edition by Henricus Stephanus (Geneva 1578), the so-called Stephanus pagination .

Complete editions without translation

  • John Burnet (Ed.): Platonis opera . 5 volumes, Oxford University Press, Oxford 1900–1907 (critical edition; reprinted several times).
  • Platonis opera . Oxford University Press, Oxford 1995 ff. (Authoritative critical edition; replaces the Burnet edition, but only volume 1 has been published so far)

Translations (German)

Friedrich Schleiermacher's translation, which appeared in Berlin between 1804 and 1828 (3rd edition 1855), is still widespread in German-speaking countries and is reprinted - in some cases in a slightly redesigned form.

  • Otto Apelt (ed.): Plato: All dialogues . 7 volumes, Meiner, Hamburg 2004, ISBN 3-7873-1156-4 (without Greek texts; reprint of the Leipzig 1922–1923 edition).
  • Gunther Eigler (Ed.): Plato: Works in eight volumes . 6th, unchanged edition. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 2010 (1st edition 1970–1983), ISBN 978-3-534-24059-3 (critical edition of the Greek texts; slightly edited translations by Schleiermacher).
  • Plato: Anniversary edition of all works , introduced by Olof Gigon , transferred by Rudolf Rufener , 8 volumes, Artemis, Zurich / Munich 1974, ISBN 3-7608-3640-2 (without Greek texts).
  • Ernst Heitsch , Carl Werner Müller , Kurt Sier (Hrsg.): Plato: Works. Translation and commentary . Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen from 1993 (without Greek texts; various translators; 22 volumes published so far).
  • Helmut von den Steinen : Platonica I. Kleitophon, Theages. An introduction to Socrates. Edited by Torsten Israel. Queich-Verlag, Germersheim 2012, ISBN 978-3-939207-12-2 (metrically shaped, scenically designed artistic transfer; further volumes not yet published).

Translations (Latin, Medieval)

  • Plato Latinus , ed. Raymond Klibansky , 4 volumes, London 1940–1962 (Volume 1: Meno, interprete Henrico Aristippo ; Volume 2: Phaedo, interprete Henrico Aristippo ; Volume 3: Parmenides… nec non Procli commentarium in Parmenidem, interprete Guillelmo de Moerbeka ; Volume 4: Timaeus a Calcidio translatus commentarioque instructus ).



Biographical and historical

  • Debra Nails: The people of Plato. A prosopography of Plato and other Socratics. Hackett, Indianapolis 2002, ISBN 0-87220-564-9 .
  • Alice Swift Riginos: Platonica. The Anecdotes concerning the Life and Writings of Plato. Brill, Leiden 1976, ISBN 90-04-04565-1 .

Introductions and general information

  • Gernot Böhme : Plato's Theoretical Philosophy. Metzler, Stuttgart 2000, ISBN 3-476-01765-6 (systematic presentation of philosophy with special consideration of aspects of the history of science; basic knowledge is required).
  • Michael Bordt : Plato. Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 1999, ISBN 3-451-04761-6 (introduction, also suitable for readers without prior knowledge).
  • Karl Bormann: Plato. 4th edition. Alber, Freiburg im Breisgau 2003, ISBN 3-495-48094-3 (introduction to the theory of ideas, the theory of the soul and the theory of the state).
  • Michael Erler: Plato. Beck, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-406-54110-0 (also suitable for non-specialist readers).
  • Herwig Görgemanns : Plato. Winter, Heidelberg 1994, ISBN 3-8253-0203-2 (introduction with special consideration of philological aspects).
  • Franz von Kutschera : Plato's philosophy. 3 volumes, Mentis, Paderborn 2002, ISBN 3-89785-277-2 (complete presentation from a philosophical perspective; knowledge of Plato's works is assumed).
  • Uwe Neumann: Plato. Rowohlt, Reinbek 2001, ISBN 3-499-50533-9 (introduction for readers without previous knowledge).
  • Georg Römpp : Plato. Böhlau, Cologne et al. 2008, ISBN 978-3-8252-3007-4 (overview of some central topics).
  • Thomas Alexander Szlezák : Read Plato. Frommann-Holzboog, Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt 1993, ISBN 3-7728-1577-4 (Instructions for dealing with the works of Plato; no systematic presentation of philosophy).
  • Barbara Zehnpfennig : Plato for an introduction. 4th, supplemented edition. Junius, Hamburg 2011, ISBN 978-3-88506-348-3 (overview of the complete works for readers without previous knowledge).

Written form, unwritten teaching

  • Konrad Gaiser : Plato's unwritten teaching. 3. Edition. Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 1998, ISBN 3-608-91911-2 .
  • Giovanni Reale: On a new interpretation of Plato. An interpretation of the metaphysics of the great dialogues in the light of the "unwritten teachings". 2nd, expanded edition. Schöningh, Paderborn 2000, ISBN 3-506-77052-7 (generally understandable representation, therefore suitable as an introduction).
  • Christina Schefer: Plato's unspeakable experience. Another approach to Plato. Schwabe, Basel 2001, ISBN 3-7965-1561-4 .
  • Thomas Alexander Szlezák: Plato and the written form of philosophy. Part 1: Interpretations of the early and middle dialogues. Part 2: The Image of the Dialectician in Plato's Late Dialogues. De Gruyter, Berlin 1985-2004, ISBN 3-11-010272-2 and ISBN 3-11-018178-9 .
  • Jürgen Villers: The Paradigm of the Alphabet. Plato and the scriptural nature of philosophy. Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 2005, ISBN 3-8260-3110-5 .

Action theory

  • Wolfram Brinker: Plato's ethics and psychology. Philological investigations on thymetic thinking and acting in the Platonic dialogues (= European university publications . Volume 95). Lang, Frankfurt am Main 2008, ISBN 978-3-631-53520-2 (revised version of a dissertation from 2003).
  • Clemens Kauffmann : Ontology and Action. Investigations into Plato's theory of action. Alber, Freiburg im Breisgau 1993, ISBN 3-495-47758-6 .

Epistemology and Cosmology

  • Theodor Ebert : Opinion and Knowledge in Plato's Philosophy. De Gruyter, Berlin 1974, ISBN 3-11-004787-X .
  • Andrew Gregory: Plato's Philosophy of Science. Duckworth, London 2000, ISBN 0-7156-2987-5 .
  • Filip Karfik: The animation of the cosmos. Studies on cosmology, theory of the soul and theology in Plato's Phaedo and Timaeus. Saur, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-598-77811-2 .
  • Richard D. Mohr: The Platonic Cosmology. Brill, Leiden 1985, ISBN 90-04-07232-2 .

The good


Literary theory

  • Stefan Büttner: The literary theory in Plato and its anthropological justification. Francke, Tübingen 2000, ISBN 3-7720-2754-7 .



  • Michael Erler: Kleines Werklexikon Platon (= Kröner Taschenbuch. Volume 502). Kröner, Stuttgart 2007, ISBN 978-3-520-50201-8 .
  • Olof Gigon , Laila Zimmermann: Plato. Lexicon of names and terms. Artemis, Zurich 1975, ISBN 3-7608-3639-9 .
  • Hugo Perls: Lexicon of Platonic Terms. Francke, Bern / Munich 1973.
  • Christian Schäfer: Platon Lexicon. Term dictionary on Plato and the Platonic tradition. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 2007, ISBN 978-3-534-17434-8 .


  • Roberto Bombacigno: Lexicon. I: Plato. Biblia, Milano 2003, ISBN 88-87682-06-2 (concordance of words to the Plato edition by John Burnet; CD-ROM attached).
  • Leonard Brandwood: A Word Index to Plato. Maney, Leeds 1976, ISBN 0-901286-09-5 .


Web links


Wikisource: Πλάτων  - Sources and full texts
Wikisource: Plato  - Sources and Full Texts
Commons : Platon  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Plato  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations



Learned society


  1. For the copy variants of the portrait of Plato see Copy Review: From Roman Copies to Greek Originals .
  2. Heinrich Dörrie, Matthias Baltes: Der Platonismus in der Antike offer a compilation of these source texts with translations and commentaries . Volume 2, Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt 1990, p. 148 ff. See also Alice Swift Riginos: Platonica. Leiden 1976, p. 9 ff.
  3. ^ Heinrich Dörrie, Matthias Baltes: Platonism in antiquity. Volume 2, Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt 1990, pp. 150-157, 404-414; Alice Swift Riginos: Platonica. Leiden 1976, pp. 9-32.
  4. Heinrich Dörrie , Matthias Baltes : Der Platonismus in der Antike offer a compilation of the source texts hostile to Plato with translations and commentaries . Volume 2, Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt 1990, p. 2 ff.
  5. ^ Relationship after Debra Nails: The people of Plato. Indianapolis 2002, p. 244.
  6. ^ Plato, Timaeus 20e and Charmides 155a. See John K. Davies: Athenian Properties Families, 600-300 BC Oxford 1971, pp. 322-326.
  7. For the family relationships see Michael Erler: Platon. Basel 2007, p. 41 f. (with family tree); Debra Nails: The people of Plato. Indianapolis 2002, p. 244 (family tree) and under the individual names.
  8. According to this source in the 88th Olympiad under the Archon Diotimos, who officiated 428-427. This traditional dating, generally accepted in research, is rejected by Debra Nails: The people of Plato , Indianapolis 2002, pp. 243–247; she advocates 424/423.
  9. ^ John K. Davies: Athenian Property Families, 600-300 BC Oxford 1971, p. 333; Michael Erler: Plato. Basel 2007, p. 43.
  10. James A. Notopoulos: The Name of Plato. In: Classical Philology. Vol. 34, 1939, pp. 135-145; John K. Davies: Athenian Property Families, 600-300 BC Oxford 1971, p. 333; Alice Swift Riginos: Platonica. Leiden 1976, pp. 35-38; Michael Erler: Plato. Basel 2007, p. 42 f.
  11. James A. Notopoulos: The Name of Plato. In: Classical Philology. Vol. 34, 1939, pp. 135-145, here: 141-143; Alice Swift Riginos: Platonica. Leiden 1976, pp. 35, 38.
  12. Michael Erler: Plato. Basel 2007, p. 44 f .; Alice Swift Riginos: Platonica. Leiden 1976, pp. 39-51.
  13. Aristoteles, Metaphysik I 6, 987a32; see. Debra Nails: The people of Plato. Indianapolis 2002, p. 105 f.
  14. Plato, Seventh Letter 324d – 325a.
  15. Plato, Seventh Letter 325b-326b.
  16. Michael Erler: Plato. Basel 2007, pp. 46–48. See William KC Guthrie : A History of Greek Philosophy , Volume 4, Cambridge 1975, pp. 14-16. The sources are compiled, translated and commented by Heinrich Dörrie, Matthias Baltes: The Platonism in antiquity. Volume 2, Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt 1990, pp. 166-177, 427-453. See Alice Swift Riginos: Platonica. Leiden 1976, pp. 61-69.
  17. See on the dating Konrad Gaiser : Der Ruhm des Annikeris. In: Konrad Gaiser: Collected writings. Sankt Augustin 2004, pp. 597–616, here: 615. This otherwise generally accepted dating is from Debra Nails: The people of Plato. Indianapolis 2002, pp. 129, 247 f. declined; she advocates approx. 384/383.
  18. ^ Carl A. Huffman: Archytas of Tarentum. Cambridge 2005, pp. 32-42.
  19. Michael Erler: Plato. Basel 2007, p. 50, 262 f .; Debra Nails: The people of Plato. Indianapolis 2002, p. 293.
  20. ^ Karl Friedrich Stroheker : Dionysios I. The figure and history of the tyrant of Syracuse , Wiesbaden 1958, pp. 100-105; Helmut Berve : Dion , Wiesbaden 1957, p. 19 f .; Kai Trampedach : Plato, the Academy and contemporary politics , Stuttgart 1994, p. 105.
  21. Kai Trampedach: Platon, the Academy and contemporary politics , Stuttgart 1994, p. 106; Michael Erler: Plato. Basel 2007, p. 50; Alice Swift Riginos: Platonica. Leiden 1976, pp. 74-85.
  22. Plato, seventh letter 326b-d; Michael Erler: Platon , Basel 2007, p. 50 f.
  23. Konrad Gaiser: Der Ruhm des Annikeris offers a compilation of the sources and a thorough investigation . In: Konrad Gaiser: Collected writings. Sankt Augustin 2004, pp. 597-616. See also Hermann Breitenbach : Platon and Dion , Zurich 1960, p. 15 f .; Helmut Berve: Dion , Wiesbaden 1957, p. 760; Karl Friedrich Stroheker: Dionysios I figure and history of the tyrant of Syracuse , Wiesbaden 1958, p. 105; William KC Guthrie: A History of Greek Philosophy , Volume 4, Cambridge 1975, pp. 18 f .; Michael Erler: Platon , Basel 2007, p. 50 f .; Alice Swift Riginos: Platonica , Leiden 1976, pp. 86-92.
  24. On the competitive relationship see Michael Erler: Platon. Basel 2007, p. 51, 348 f .; Malcolm Schofield: Plato in His Time and Place. In: Gail Fine (Ed.): The Oxford Handbook of Plato. Oxford 2008, pp. 47-51; Christoph Eucken : Isocrates. His position in dealing with contemporary philosophers , Berlin 1983, especially pp. 107 ff., 235 ff.
  25. For the details of these processes see Helmut Berve: Dion , Wiesbaden 1957, pp. 29–35, Hermann Breitenbach: Platon and Dion , Zurich 1960, pp. 22–27, Michael Erler: Platon , Basel 2007, p. 55. Kai Trampedach: Plato, the academy and contemporary politics. Stuttgart 1994, pp. 107–109 suspects that Dion has no philosophical motives, but only power-political motives. See also Kurt von Fritz: Plato in Sicily and the problem of the rule of the philosophers. Berlin 1968, pp. 63-68.
  26. Helmut Berve: Dion , Wiesbaden 1957, pp. 32–41.
  27. Helmut Berve: Dion. Wiesbaden 1957, pp. 36-39.
  28. Helmut Berve: Dion. Wiesbaden 1957, pp. 39 f., 45 f., 57.
  29. On these processes see Helmut Berve: Dion. Wiesbaden 1957, pp. 45-47.
  30. Helmut Berve: Dion , Wiesbaden 1957, pp. 48-53, 58 f.
  31. ^ Helmut Berve: Dion , Wiesbaden 1957, p. 53.
  32. Helmut Berve: Dion. Wiesbaden 1957, pp. 53-57.
  33. Helmut Berve: Dion. Wiesbaden 1957, p. 57 f.
  34. Helmut Berve: Dion , Wiesbaden 1957, pp. 61, 65 f .; Kai Trampedach: Plato, the academy and contemporary politics , Stuttgart 1994, p. 111 f.
  35. ^ Helmut Berve: Dion , Wiesbaden 1957, pp. 62–114, Hermann Breitenbach: Platon and Dion. Zurich 1960, pp. 65–70. Kai Trampedach: Plato, the Academy and contemporary politics. Stuttgart 1994, pp. 115–122 and Jürgen Sprute : Dion's Syracusan politics and the political ideals of Plato. In: Hermes 100, 1972, pp. 294-313, Dion denied a platonic motivation. Cf. Kurt von Fritz: Plato in Sicily and the problem of the rule of the philosophers. Berlin 1968, pp. 100 f., 108-118, 128-135.
  36. About the good is traditionally considered an old work; however, some researchers advocate earlier or even very early dating. See Michael Erler: Platon , Basel 2007, pp. 419–421.
  37. On death and the legends associated with it, see Michael Erler: Platon. Basel 2007, p. 57 f .; Alice Swift Riginos: Platonica. Leiden 1976, pp. 194-198. The year of death was the first year of the 108th Olympiad (summer 348 to summer 347).
  38. Joachim Söder: II. On Plato's works. In: Christoph Horn, Jörn Müller, Joachim Söder (Hrsg.): Platon-Handbuch. Life - work - effect. Stuttgart 2009, pp. 19–59, here: 19.
  39. Michael Erler offers a thorough presentation: Platon. Basel 2007, pp. 27–29, 99 ff., A summary Thomas Alexander Szlezák: Platon. In: Der Neue Pauly Volume 9, Stuttgart 2000, Sp. 1097–1100.
  40. ^ Overview by Michael Erler: Platon. Basel 2007, p. 21. For the classification of the individual writings in the tetralogies see here .
  41. For a discussion of authenticity see Michael Erler: Platon. Basel 2007, pp. 291 f., 663–665 and the literature cited there.
  42. For the ongoing discussion of authenticity see Michael Erler: Platon. Basel 2007, pp. 301 f., 667 f. and the literature mentioned there. Thomas Alexander Szlezák: Plato. In: The New Pauly. Volume 9, Stuttgart 2000, Col. 1098 f. thinks he can find a consensus in favor of authenticity, while Debra Nails: The people of Plato. Indianapolis 2002, p. 168 regards inauthenticity as fact.
  43. This dialogue is the least controversial among the dubious, the authenticity is now considered very likely, but not definitely assured; Michael Erler: Plato. Basel 2007, p. 142.
  44. For the ongoing discussion of authenticity, in which the advocates of inauthenticity predominate, see Michael Erler: Plato. Basel 2007, pp. 305 f., 668 and the literature cited there.
  45. For the ongoing discussion of authenticity, in which the advocates of authenticity are in the minority, see Michael Erler: Platon. Basel 2007, pp. 299, 666 and the literature cited there.
  46. For a discussion of authenticity see Michael Erler: Platon. Basel 2007, pp. 310–322, 669–672 and the literature cited there.
  47. Michael Erler: Plato. Basel 2007, pp. 27-29.
  48. See for the medieval history of transmission Hartmut Erbse : History of transmission of Greek classical and Hellenistic literature. In: History of the text transmission of ancient and medieval literature. Volume 1, Zurich 1961, pp. 207-283, here: 258-262; see. Michael Erler: Plato. Basel 2007, p. 9 f.
  49. The papyrus fragments are edited in the Corpus dei papiri filosofici greci e latini (CPF) , Part 1 Volume 1 ***, Florence 1999, pp. 33–619.
  50. Papyrus Flinders Petrie II 50 ( Laches ). See also Corpus dei papiri filosofici greci e latini (CPF) , Part 1 Volume 1 ***, Florence 1999, pp. 100-113.
  51. ↑ In isolated cases, however, the possibility is still expected that Plato began to write dialogues as early as Socrates' lifetime; see Michael Erler: Plato. Basel 2007, p. 22.
  52. ^ Lewis Campbell: The Sophistes and Politicus of Plato , Oxford 1867. Leonard Brandwood: The chronology of Plato's dialogues , Cambridge 1990 provides an overview of the analyzes of language statistics . Cf. Leonard Brandwood: Stylometry and chronology. In: Richard Kraut (Ed.): The Cambridge Companion to Plato. Cambridge 1992, pp. 90-120; Gerard R. Ledger: Re-counting Plato. Oxford 1989.
  53. Details from Michael Erler: Platon. Basel 2007, pp. 22–26, 99 ff. With discussion of dissenting views.
  54. The relevant source texts are collected by Gabriele Giannantoni (ed.): Socratis et Socraticorum reliquiae , volumes 1 and 2, Naples 1990.
  55. Michael Erler: Plato. Basel 2007, pp. 60, 65-71.
  56. For the debate about the reasons for this anonymity see Michael Erler: Platon. Basel 2007, pp. 75–78.
  57. On Plato's reluctance to coining specialist terminology, see Michael Erler: Platon. Basel 2007, p. 31 f. with sources and other literature.
  58. Plato, Apology 34a1 and 38b6.
  59. Plato, Phaidon 59b10.
  60. For the interpretation of this “platonic anonymity” see Michael Erler: Platon. Basel 2007, pp. 75–78 and the articles in the essay collection Who Speaks for Plato? Published by Gerald A. Press ? Studies in Platonic Anonymity. Lanham 2000.
  61. Michael Erler: Plato. Basel 2007, p. 61 f.
  62. Thomas Alexander Szlezák: Read Plato. Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt 1993, p. 32, 120-129.
  63. Thomas Alexander Szlezák: Read Plato. Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt 1993, pp. 38-41.
  64. Plato, Phaedrus 274b-278b; Seventh letter 340b-345c.
  65. Sylvia Usener: Isokrates, Plato and their audience. Tübingen 1994, pp. 143–229, provides numerous indications and arguments for a priority of hearing (especially p. 150 ff.) And points out that Plato himself assessed the value of reading as less. Even for the letters, Plato assumes an audience that is read to.
  66. Plutarch, Quaestiones convivales 7, 8, 1, 711b – c; Even in our time, Plato's dialogues are occasionally staged, for example the Phaidon on the Schaubühne in Berlin 1986, Michael Erler: Platon , Basel 2007, p. 81.
  67. Michael Erler: Plato. Basel 2007, p. 86.
  68. Peter Weber-Schäfer : The "overcoming" of the sophistry by Plato. In: Stephan Kirste et al. (Ed.): Die Sophistik. Origin, shape and subsequent problems of the opposition between natural law and positive law , Stuttgart 2002, pp. 158–170.
  69. ^ Plato, Timaeus 21e – 26d.
  70. Plato, Symposium 189c-193e.
  71. Plato, Symposium 203a-e.
  72. Plato, Politeia 359d-360b.
  73. Plato, Politeia 614a-621d.
  74. Plato, Politeia 414c-415d.
  75. ^ Plato, Phaedrus 246a-256e.
  76. Plato, Phaedrus 274c-275b.
  77. Plato, Politicus 268d-274d.
  78. For example, Plato, Phaedon 107d-114c GORGIAS 523a-527a.
  79. On the myth of Plato see Michael Erler: Platon. Basel 2007, pp. 89–92.
  80. Plato, Protagoras 320c-323a.
  81. ^ Plato, Timaeus 20d – 26e.
  82. ^ So Pierre Vidal-Naquet : Athens and Atlantis. Structure and meaning of a platonic myth. In: Pierre Vidal-Naquet: The Black Hunter. Frankfurt am Main 1989, pp. 216-232; Heinz-Günther Nesselrath : Plato and the invention of Atlantis , Munich 2002; Herwig Görgemanns: Truth and Fiction in Plato's Atlantis Story. In: Hermes. Vol. 128, 2000, pp. 405-420.
  83. Plato, Politeia 614b.
  84. For example in Politeia 377a; see. Michael Erler: Plato. Basel 2007, p. 90.
  85. See, for example, Plato, Protagoras 320c and Gorgias 523a1–2; on Plato's usage, see Markus Janka: Semantics and Context. Myth and related things in the Corpus Platonicum. In: Markus Janka, Christian Schäfer (Ed.): Platon als Mythologe , 2nd, revised edition, Darmstadt 2014, pp. 23–46.
  86. For example Gerhard Müller : The Myths of the Platonic Dialogues. In: News of the Giessen University Society. No. 32, 1963, pp. 77-92.
  87. See Konrad Gaiser: Gesammelte Schriften. Sankt Augustin 2004, pp. 61-69; Michael Erler: Plato. Basel 2007, p. 91.
  88. Markus Janka: Myth. In: Christian Schäfer (Ed.): Platon-Lexikon. Darmstadt 2007, p. 208 f. with further literature and evidence.
  89. ^ Plato, Symposium 210a-212a.
  90. Plato, Politeia 510c – 511a.
  91. ^ Plato, Phaedo 75c – d.
  92. The most important writings related to the doctrine of ideas are Euthyphron , Menon , Phaidon , Symposion , Phaidros , Politeia , Parmenides and Timaeus .
  93. Michael Erler: Plato. Basel 2007, p. 391 f .; besides idéa in particular εἶδος eídos “archetype”, μορφή morphḗ “form”, οὐσία usía “essence” and παράδειγμα parádeigma “pattern”.
  94. Plato, Politikos 266d; see. on this 257b.
  95. Plato, Parmenides 130a – e.
  96. ^ Christian Schäfer: Idea. In: Christian Schäfer (Ed.): Platon-Lexikon. Darmstadt 2007, p. 163 with references.
  97. Plato, Phaedo 79e-80b.
  98. Plato, Gorgias 493a, Kratylos 400c, Phaidros 250c.
  99. On the metaphors of the imprisonment and the grave of the soul and their reception in antiquity and the Middle Ages, see Pierre Courcelle : Connais-toi toi-même de Socrate à Saint Bernard , Volume 2, Paris 1975, pp. 325–414.
  100. Plato, GORGIAS 524a-b, Phaedon 64c Timaios 81c-e (see 73 b.).
  101. ^ Plato Phaedo 65a-67a.
  102. ^ Plato, Symposium 202d – e.
  103. See also Wolfram Brinker: Seele. In: Christian Schäfer (Ed.): Platon-Lexikon. Darmstadt 2007, p. 254 and the documents cited there.
  104. ^ Plato, Apology 29d – e.
  105. Plato, Politeia 438d-441c, 443c-445e.
  106. Plato, Phaedrus 246a-247c, 253c-254e.
  107. Plato, Politeia 580e-581a.
  108. Plato, Politeia 581b – e.
  109. See Wolfram Brinker: Seele. In: Christian Schäfer (Ed.): Platon-Lexikon. Darmstadt 2007, pp. 255-257 and the documents cited there.
  110. ^ Plato, Timaeus 69c-70a.
  111. Plato, Timaeus 77a – c.
  112. ^ Plato, Timaeus 30a – b, 34b – 37c.
  113. Plato, Phaedo 70c-72d.
  114. Plato, Phaedo 72e-77a; on the vision of ideas through the soul see also Phaedrus 246e – 256e.
  115. Plato, Phaedo 78b-80d.
  116. Plato, Phaedo 102b-107b.
  117. Plato, Politeia 608c-612a.
  118. Wolfram Brinker: Soul. In: Christian Schäfer (Ed.): Platon-Lexikon. Darmstadt 2007, p. 253; Karin Alt : Immortality. In: Christian Schäfer (Ed.): Platon-Lexikon. Darmstadt 2007, p. 298.
  119. Plato, Phaedon 108e-114c; see. Phaidon 80d-81a.
  120. Plato, Gorgias 523a-527a.
  121. Plato, Politeia 614c-621b.
  122. Plato, Timaeus 90e-92c.
  123. Plato, Theaetetus 145e-146a.
  124. ^ Plato, Theaetetos 151d – e.
  125. ^ Plato, Theaetetos 187a – e.
  126. Plato, Theaetetus 200d-201c.
  127. ^ Plato, Theaetetos 210a – b.
  128. ^ Plato, Meno 98a.
  129. Plato, Theaetetus 202d-208b.
  130. In the 20th century, Plato's discussion of the problem of the concept of knowledge was seen as a preliminary stage of the modern discussion of the so-called Gettier problem ; so Rainer Enskat: Authentic knowledge. What epistemology can learn from Platonic Socrates. In: Rainer Enskat (Ed.): Amicus Plato magis amica veritas. Festschrift for Wolfgang Wieland on his 65th birthday. Berlin 1998, pp. 101-143.
  131. Plato, Gorgias 454d.
  132. Plato, Theaetetus 186e.
  133. ^ Plato, Timaeus 51d-52a.
  134. Plato, Phaedo 65c.
  135. Plato, Seventh Letter 342a – 343e.
  136. Plato, Politeia 509d – 511e.
  137. Hans Otto Seitschek: Recollection. In: Christian Schäfer (Ed.): Platon-Lexikon. Darmstadt 2007, pp. 330–333.
  138. Plato, Meno 82b-86c.
  139. Plato, Meno 75d.
  140. Plato, Politeia 534e.
  141. Michael Erler: Plato. Basel 2007, p. 31 f.
  142. ^ Walter Müri : The word dialectic in Plato. In: Museum Helveticum 1, 1944, pp. 152–168; Peter Staudacher follows him: Dialectic. In: Christian Schäfer (Ed.): Platon-Lexikon. Darmstadt 2007, p. 81.
  143. Plato, Politeia 534b-c.
  144. Plato, Politeia 533c.
  145. Plato, Politeia 510c – d.
  146. ^ Plato, Politeia 511b-c. For the meaning of the idea of ​​the good in this context, see Rafael Ferber: Plato's idea of ​​the good , 2nd, expanded edition. Sankt Augustin 1989, pp. 97-106.
  147. Plato, Politeia 534e-535a.
  148. Plato, Politeia 505a.
  149. ^ Richard Robinson : Plato's Earlier Dialectic , Oxford University Press, Oxford 1953, p. 65.
  150. Julius Stenzel : Studies on the development of the Platonic dialectic from Socrates to Aristotle. Stuttgart 1961 (reprint of the 2nd edition from 1931), p. 42 f., 53.
  151. Plato, Symposium 178c-180b.
  152. ^ Władysław Tatarkiewicz: History of Aesthetics. Volume 1: The Aesthetics of Antiquity. Basel 1979, p. 140 f.
  153. Plato, Symposium 203a-207a.
  154. Plato, Phaedrus 247c-e, 249d-252b.
  155. Plato, Symposium 206c-212a.
  156. ^ Plato, Symposium 204a – b.
  157. Plato, Politeia 433-434.
  158. Plato, Politeia 332a-c.
  159. Plato, Politeia , 335b – e.
  160. Plato, Politeia 338c-339b, 343b-344c.
  161. Plato, Politeia 358e-362c.
  162. Julia Annas : An Introduction to Plato's Republic , Oxford 1981, pp. 157-169.
  163. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1129b – 1130a.
  164. Plato, Politeia 443c-d; Christian Schäfer: Justice. In: Christian Schäfer (Ed.): Platon-Lexikon. Darmstadt 2007, p. 132.
  165. Plato, Phaedo 100e-101b.
  166. Plato, Protagoras 323a – c.
  167. See, for example, Plato, Politeia 353e – 354a, Gorgias 479e, 507c, 512a – b; Christian Schäfer: Justice. In: Christian Schäfer (Ed.): Platon-Lexikon. Darmstadt 2007, p. 134.
  168. Plato, Politeia 357d-358a.
  169. Plato, Politeia 509b.
  170. See also Rafael Ferber: Isn't the idea of ​​the good transcendent or is it? In: Damir Barbarić (ed.): Plato on good and justice. Würzburg 2005, pp. 149-174.
  171. Plato, Politeia 508a-509b; Marcel van Ackeren: The knowledge of the good , Amsterdam 2003, p. 171.
  172. ^ Günter Fröhlich : Lust. In: Christian Schäfer (Ed.): Platon-Lexikon. Darmstadt 2007, pp. 189-192.
  173. Plato, Theaitetos 176b; see. Nomoi 716b-d.
  174. ^ Klaus Schöpsdau : Plato: Nomoi (laws). Translation and Commentary , Part 2, Göttingen 2003, pp. 207 f.
  175. ↑ On this concept, see John M. Armstrong: After the Ascent: Plato on Becoming Like God. In: Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy. Vol. 26, 2004, pp. 171-183; Christian Tornau : similarity, similar / dissimilar, similarity. In: Christian Schäfer (Ed.): Platon-Lexikon. Darmstadt 2007, pp. 35–39, here: 38 f .; David Sedley : Becoming Godlike. In: Christopher Bobonich: The Cambridge Companion to Ancient Ethics , Cambridge 2017, pp. 319–337.
  176. Plato, Politeia 369b-427c.
  177. ^ Lachesis myth, Plato, Politeia 617d – 618e.
  178. On the community of women and children as well as eugenics, see Plato, Politeia 458b – 461e.
  179. Plato, Politeia 383a-393a.
  180. Plato, Politeia arm 473c-d.
  181. Plato, Laws 739D.
  182. For the choice of rulers see Plato, Nomoi 753b – d.
  183. ↑ On this and on ancient reactions to it see Heinrich Dörrie, Matthias Baltes: Der Platonismus in der Antike. Volume 2, Stuttgart 1990, pp. 303-315.
  184. Plato, Politeia 424a-425a.
  185. For this conception of art see Władysław Tatarkiewicz: History of Aesthetics , Volume 1: The Aesthetics of Antiquity. Basel 1979, p. 148 and note 32, 167; Götz Pochat: History of Aesthetics and Art Theory. Cologne 1986, p. 44.
  186. ^ Władysław Tatarkiewicz: History of Aesthetics. Volume 1: The Aesthetics of Antiquity. Basel 1979, pp. 144-146, 154 f.
  187. ^ Władysław Tatarkiewicz: History of Aesthetics. Volume 1: The Aesthetics of Antiquity. Basel 1979, pp. 143 f., 150–158, 164–166 (with a compilation of sources on Plato's understanding of art in translation, pp. 160–167).
  188. Plato, Sophistes 266c-d.
  189. This key should not be confused with the church key of the same name , the Lydian mode .
  190. ^ Plato, Phaedrus 245a; Władysław Tatarkiewicz: History of Aesthetics , Volume 1: The Aesthetics of Antiquity , Basel 1979, pp. 149 f., 156–159, 163.
  191. Plato, Politeia 393a-396e.
  192. Plato, Phaedo 96a-99c.
  193. ^ Plato, Timaeus 28a – b.
  194. For the status of the discussion, see Michael Erler: Platon. Basel 2007, p. 455 f. and the literature mentioned there.
  195. Michael Erler: Plato. Basel 2007, p. 460.
  196. ^ Plato, Timaeus 50b – 51b, 52d.
  197. Plato, Timaeus 55d-57d.
  198. ^ Plato, Timaeus 53c – d.
  199. ^ Klaus Mainzer : Symmetries of Nature. A handbook on the philosophy of nature and science , Berlin 1988, p. 67.
  200. ^ Plato, Timaeus 30a – b, 34b – 37c. Cf. Mischa von Perger: The all-soul in Plato's Timaeus. Stuttgart 1997, pp. 83-85.
  201. Plato, Politeia 616b-617c.
  202. ^ Plato, Timaeus 69c-75a.
  203. Aristotle, Physics 209b13–15.
  204. Plato, Phaedrus 274b-278b; Seventh letter 340b-345c. See Thomas A. Szlezák: Read Platon , Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt 1993, pp. 56–71.
  205. For the collections of relevant documents see Michael Erler: Platon. Basel 2007, pp. 411-416; see. Christina Schefer: Plato's unspeakable experience. Basel 2001, p. 11.
  206. Konrad Gaiser: Principle theory in Plato. In: Konrad Gaiser: Collected writings. Sankt Augustin 2004, pp. 295–315, here: 295.
  207. See for example Michael Erler: Platon on the complex of questions . Basel 2007, pp. 406-411.
  208. Hans Joachim Krämer: Arete with Plato and Aristotle. Heidelberg 1959, pp. 380-486. Other relevant works by Krämer are listed in Jens Halfwassen: Monism and dualism in Plato's doctrine of principles. In: Bochum philosophical yearbook for antiquity and the Middle Ages. Vol. 2, 1997, pp. 1-21, here: pp. 1 f. Note 1.
  209. Konrad Gaiser: Plato's unwritten teaching. 3. Edition. Stuttgart 1998; Konrad Gaiser: Collected writings. Sankt Augustin 2004, pp. 295-340.
  210. ^ Thomas Alexander Szlezák: Plato and the writing of philosophy. Interpretations of the early and middle dialogues. Berlin 1985, pp. 364-375, 397-410; Thomas Alexander Szlezák: About the usual aversion to agrapha dogmata. In: Méthexis. Vol. 6, 1993, pp. 155-174.
  211. Jens Halfwassen: Plato's Metaphysics of One. In: Marcel van Ackeren (Ed.): Understanding Plato. Topics and perspectives. Darmstadt 2004, pp. 263-278; Jens Halfwassen: The ascent on the one hand. 2nd Edition. Leipzig 2006, pp. 183-405.
  212. Michael Erler: Platon , Munich 2006, pp. 162–171; Vittorio Hösle: Truth and History , Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt 1984, pp. 374–392; Detlef Thiel: The Philosophy of Xenokrates in the Context of the Old Academy , Munich 2006, pp. 137–225; Rafael Ferber: Why didn't Plato write the “unwritten teaching”? 2nd Edition. Munich 2007 (with research report, pp. 80–84); Herwig Görgemanns: Platon , Heidelberg 1994, pp. 113-119; Karl Albert: Plato and the philosophy of antiquity , part 1, Dettelbach 1998, pp. 380–398; Heinz Happ: Hyle. Berlin 1971, pp. 85-94, 136-143; Klaus Oehler: The new situation in Plato research. In: Thomas Alexander Szlezák (Ed.): Platonic Philosophizing. Hildesheim 2001, pp. 31-46; Klaus Oehler: The demythologized Plato. In: Journal for philosophical research 19, 1965, pp. 393-420; John N. Findlay: Plato. The Written and Unwritten Doctrines , London 1974, pp. 6 f., 19-23, 80, 350 f., 455-473; Willy Theiler: Studies on ancient literature , Berlin 1970, pp. 460–483, here: 462 f .; Hans-Georg Gadamer: Dialectics and Sophistics in the seventh Platonic letter. In: Hans-Georg Gadamer: Collected Works , Volume 6: Greek Philosophy II , Tübingen 1985, pp. 90–115, here: 111–113; Hans-Georg Gadamer: Plato's unwritten dialectic. In: Hans-Georg Gadamer: Gesammelte Werke , Volume 6: Greek Philosophy II , Tübingen 1985, pp. 11-13, 28 (cf. Giuseppe Girgenti (Ed.): Platone tra oralità e scrittura , Milano 2001, pp. 9– 15); Christina Schefer: Plato's unspeakable experience. Basel 2001, pp. 2–4, 10–14, 225.
  213. Rafael Ferber: Why did Plato not write the “unwritten teaching”? 2nd Edition. Munich 2007, p. 81; Michael Erler: Plato. Basel 2007, p. 409. Giovanni Reale's relevant major work is also available in German: On a new interpretation of Plato. An interpretation of the metaphysics of the great dialogues in the light of the "unwritten teachings". 2nd Edition. Paderborn 2000.
  214. Harold Cherniss: The older academy. A historical riddle and its solution , Heidelberg 1966 (translation from: The Riddle of the Early Academy , Berkeley 1945; contains three lectures from 1942) and Aristotle's Criticism of Plato and the Academy. Volume 1, Baltimore 1944. In-depth criticism of Cherniss' position is exercised by Hans Joachim Kramer: Arete in Plato and Aristotle. Heidelberg 1959, pp. 380-447.
  215. ^ Gregory Vlastos: Platonic Studies. 2nd Edition. Princeton 1981, pp. 379-403.
  216. On the English-speaking skeptics see Thomas Alexander Szlezák: Schleiermacher's "Introduction" to the Plato translation of 1804. In: Antike und Abendland 43, 1997, pp. 46–62, here: 61 f.
  217. ^ Theodor Ebert: Opinion and knowledge in Plato's philosophy. Berlin 1974, pp. 2-4; Dorothea Frede: Plato: Philebos. Translation and commentary. Göttingen 1997, pp. 403-417; Dorothea Frede: The wondrous changeability of ancient philosophy in the present. In: Ernst-Richard Schwinge (Ed.): The ancient sciences at the end of the 2nd millennium AD Stuttgart 1995, pp. 9–40, here: 28–33; Andreas Graeser: The philosophy of antiquity , Volume 2: Sophistics and Socratism, Plato and Aristotle. 2nd Edition. Munich 1993, pp. 130-132; Andreas Graeser: Critical retractations to the esoteric interpretation of Plato. In: Archive for the history of philosophy 56, 1974, pp. 71–87; Ernst Heitsch: ΤΙΜΙΩΤΕΡΑ. In: Ernst Heitsch: Collected writings. Volume 3, Munich 2003, pp. 338-347; Franz von Kutschera: Plato's philosophy. Volume 3, Paderborn 2002, pp. 149-171, 202-206; Günther Patzig: Plato's political ethics. In: Günther Patzig: Collected writings. Volume 3, Göttingen 1996, pp. 32–54, here: p. 36 note 3 (cf. the criticism by Hans Krämer: Critical remarks on the most recent statements by W. Wieland and G. Patzig on Plato's unwritten teaching. In : Rivista di Filosofia neo-scolastica. Vol. 74, 1982, pp. 579-592, here: 586-592); Wolfgang Wieland: Plato and the forms of knowledge. 2nd Edition. Göttingen 1999, pp. 40–50, 328–330, 340 (cf. Hans Krämer: Critical comments on the most recent statements by W. Wieland and G. Patzig on Plato's unwritten teaching. In: Rivista di Filosofia neo-scolastica. Vol. 74, 1982, pp. 579-592, here: 579-585).
  218. Konrad Gaiser: Plato's unwritten teaching. 3. Edition. Stuttgart 1998, p. 18 f.
  219. Christina Schefer: Plato's untold experience. Basel 2001, p. 186 f.
  220. See on the primarily monistic character of the doctrine of principles Jens Halfwassen: Monism and dualism in Plato's doctrine of principles In: Bochum philosophical yearbook for antiquity and the Middle Ages. Vol. 2, 1997, pp. 1–21 and Detlef Thiel: The Philosophy of Xenokrates in the Context of the Old Academy. Munich 2006, pp. 197-208. Cf. Michael Erler: Plato. Basel 2007, p. 428 f .; Hans Joachim Krämer: The Origin of Spirit Metaphysics. 2nd Edition. Amsterdam 1967, pp. 329-334; Christina Schefer: Plato's unspeakable experience. Basel 2001, pp. 57-60.
  221. Giovanni Reale: On a new interpretation of Plato. 2nd Edition. Paderborn 2000, pp. 207 f., 309-311.
  222. Michael Erler provides an overview of the more recent research literature : Platon (= Hellmut Flashar (ed.): Grundriss der Geschichte der Philosophie. Die Philosophie der Antike. Volume 2/2), Basel 2007, pp. 370–372. Erler himself ascribes an essential role to intuitive knowledge.
  223. Peter Stemmer: Plato's Dialectic: The early and middle dialogues. Berlin 1992, pp. 214-225; see also the works by authors cited there on p. 220 note 116 who share Stemmer's view of intuition.
  224. Jens Halfwassen: The rise to one. Investigations on Plato and Plotinus. 2nd Edition. Leipzig 2006, pp. 16–33, 183 ff.
  225. Christina Schefer: Plato's untold experience. Basel 2001, p. 63 ff.
  226. Aristoteles, Metaphysik I 9 (990b – 993a; for doubling 990b10–11).
  227. On Aristotle's criticism of Plato's teachings see František Novotný: The Posthumous Life of Plato. The Hague 1977, pp. 26-36.
  228. Giovanni Reale: On a new interpretation of Plato. 2nd Edition. Paderborn 2000; Jens Halfwassen: The ascent on the one hand. Investigations on Plato and Plotinus. 2nd Edition. Leipzig 2006.
  229. On the Byzantine reception of Plato see František Novotný: The Posthumous Life of Plato. The Hague 1977, pp. 279-293.
  230. See also Wilhelm Blum, Walter Seitter (ed.): Georgios Gemistos Plethon (1355-1452). Reform politician, philosopher, admirer of the old gods , Zurich 2005.
  231. James Hankins: The Myth of the Platonic Academy of Florence : In: Renaissance Quarterly. Vol. 44, 1991, pp. 429-475.
  232. Voltaire: Songe de Platon.
  233. ^ Thomas Alexander Szlezák: Friedrich Schleiermacher and the Plato picture of the 19th and 20th centuries.
  234. ^ Karl Friedrich Hermann: History and system of the Platonic philosophy. Volume 1 (no longer published), Heidelberg 1839.
  235. ^ Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff: Platon. 2 volumes, Berlin 1919.
  236. See also Pascal Firges: Eros in Hyperion . Platonic and Spinozist ideas in Hölderlin's novel , Annweiler 2010.
  237. James A. Notopoulos: The Platonism of Shelley. Durham 1949.
  238. Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff among others: The Greek and Latin literature and language. 2nd Edition. Berlin 1907, p. 76.
  239. ^ Friedrich Nietzsche: Works in three volumes. Volume 2, Munich 1954, p. 1028.
  240. On Nietzsche's criticism of Plato see Walter Patt: Formen des Anti-Platonismus bei Kant, Nietzsche and Heidegger. Frankfurt 1997, p. 69 ff .; Annamaria Lossi: Nietzsche and Plato. Meeting on the Path of the Revolution of Platonism. Würzburg 2006.
  241. Friedrich Nietzsche: Critical Study Edition (KSA) 7, p. 199.
  242. Martin Heidegger: Hölderlin's hymn 'Der Ister' . GA Volume 53, p. 29.
  243. See the summary in Karl-Heinz Lembeck : Platon in Marburg , Würzburg 1994, pp. 341–348.
  244. ^ Alfred North Whitehead: Process and Reality. An Essay on Cosmology. Cambridge 1929, p. 63.
  245. Karl Popper: The open society and its enemies, Volume 1: The spell of Plato. London 1945, German The magic of Plato. 8th edition. Tübingen 2003.
  246. Contributions to the discussion about Popper's hypotheses are collected in Renford Bambrough (ed.): Plato, Popper and Politics. Some Contributions to a Modern Controversy , Cambridge 1967.
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