from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Platonism and Platonists (followers of Platonism) are terms that are used with different meanings. In the narrower, more historical sense, Platonism is understood to mean the doctrine of the ancient Greek philosopher Plato and Platonists are the ancient philosophers who professed this doctrine. In a broader sense, a Platonist is also used to refer to medieval and modern philosophers who have only adopted individual essential elements of Plato's teaching or who share individual convictions with Plato. In the broadest, purely systematic sense, the term Platonism is used today for all philosophical doctrines that have a certain core characteristic in common with Plato's philosophy, even if they are otherwise very different from it. This characteristic is defined differently and is then, according to the respective definition, constitutive for Platonism.

Platonists not only refer to technical philosophers, but also to poets, theologians and other intellectuals whose worldview shows essential similarities with the concepts of Platonism.


In ancient times , a "Platonist" was understood to be a philosopher who, as a rule, had received training at the academy founded by Plato or another Platonic school of philosophy and who expressly saw himself as a follower of Plato.

Modern research divides this ancient Platonism into stages of development: older academy (from Plato to Krates of Athens ) and younger academy (from Arkesilaos to Philon of Larisa ), middle platonism and neo-platonism . Sometimes a distinction is also made between the old, middle and new academies. Such historical divisions already existed in antiquity, and were also counted according to order (“first” to “fifth” academy).

The Platonists set great store by representing the original doctrine of Plato and claimed to only set their own accents. However, the range of opinions within Platonism was broad, and some Platonists did not shy away from even modifying or even abandoning central elements of Plato's teaching. Plato's nephew and successor as head of the academy, Speusippus , turned away from Plato's theory of ideas . The Younger Academy was characterized by skepticism (“academic skepticism”), which led to the abandonment of ontological teaching statements - a core component of Platonism. The school founded by Antiochus of Askalon , which programmatically called itself the “Old Academy” and thus appeared as the heir to authentic Platonism, gave up the Platonic doctrine of transcendence under the influence of the Stoa .

In the Middle and Neo-Platonism, however, there was a return to Plato. The Middle and Neo-Platonists were in the habit of consistently professing his teaching in all essential points. Many of them adored him and celebrated his birthday as a feast day. Usually they did not want to change the teaching of Plato, but only to interpret it and defend it against the views of other schools of philosophy. In this narrower sense of the term, a devout Jew or Christian could not actually be a Platonist, since this Platonism also had a “pagan” religious dimension (nevertheless Synesius of Cyrene attempted a synthesis ).

An “academic” was often specifically understood to mean a follower of the skepticism of the Younger Academy. Therefore, the terms “Platonists” and “Academics” did not always have the same meaning, even though the Academy was Plato's school.

middle Ages

In the Middle Ages there were no longer any Platonists in the above narrower sense. When medieval philosophers (and also ancient Christians such as Augustine or Boethius ) are referred to as "Platonists", it only means that they were influenced by Plato in certain aspects of their thinking. In the Middle Ages, this kind of influence mostly took place indirectly, especially through Augustine, because at that time only a very small part of Plato's works were known in the Latin- speaking West (until the middle of the 12th century only the Timaeus dialogue , and not even completely). Many medieval thinkers influenced by Platonics did not see themselves as Platonists; they often did not even know that or to what extent their ideas ultimately went back to Plato. There have been many transitions and compromise solutions between Platonic and non-Platonic thinking. Therefore, it is often not possible to decide in individual cases whether a thinker can be called a Platonist, or the decision is something arbitrary. A large part of medieval and early modern philosophy is included in this Platonism in the broadest sense of the term. It is mainly about the following Platonic teachings:

  • the theory of ideas . Platonists in this sense are all those who believed that the ideas denoted by general terms had an independent existence independent of the individual things. These thinkers are called universal realists or realists for short (in contrast to the nominalists).
  • the doctrine of the soul . The Platonists believed that the person is the immortal soul who only inhabits the body and controls "like a skipper the ship", so is only externally connected to it. The Aristotelians on the other hand (especially Thomas Aquinas ) emphasized that the soul is essentially assigned to a certain body and only to it as its form and "perfection", that is, it forms a unity with it in essence.
  • the Neo-Platonic doctrine of emanation . For Christians, the world and man were created directly through an act of will of God. Under Neoplatonic influence, however, some wanted to understand that the world and living beings emerged from God in a gradual process ( emanation ).

Early modern age

In the 15th century, Platonism experienced a renaissance in the Byzantine East with Georgios Gemistos Plethon . At the same time, works by Plato previously unknown in the West were brought to Italy in Greek manuscripts and translated into Latin. Some humanists , especially Marsilio Ficino in Renaissance Florence, were enthusiastic about Plato and his teaching. Platonism was seen as the opposite of scholastic Aristotelianism, and there was a dispute over whether Plato or Aristotle deserved precedence. Although the original texts of Plato were now available, the humanistic Platonists tied primarily to Neoplatonism.

In the 17th century, the Cambridge Platonists , an influential group of philosophers and theologians at Cambridge University, advocated a Neoplatonic Christian Platonism to ward off atheistic and mechanistic doctrines.

Modern philosophy

By Alfred North Whitehead the word was coined, the entire Western philosophy consists of "footnotes to Plato."

In many modern contexts, however, the term Platonism does not refer to the historical figure Plato, but only to some kind of metaphysical realism with regard to the problem of universals . Since these “realistic” positions (“universal realism”) show a more or less distant similarity to Plato's doctrine of ideas or their respective interpretation, they are called “Platonism”, because the doctrine of ideas is known as a main component of Plato's philosophy.

The following positions are usually distinguished in the debates:

  • “Platonism” : the variants of the thesis There are abstract and immutable objects that also exist independently of our thinking and do not exist in space and time, are not part of the physical world and do not interact causally with physical objects. These include, for example, mathematical objects (numbers, classes ), properties and propositions (the ideal content of linguistic sentences that is independent of languages ​​and speakers). Representatives are for example:
  • immanent realism : the variants of the thesis There are abstract objects that also exist independently of our thinking, but they exist in the physical world. One of these variants is the following:
    • David Malet Armstrong characterizes his own ontology as an opposing position to "Platonic realism"; it is anti-platonic at least in the respect that for him - unlike for Plato - there is no separation of individual things and universals; he seems more close to Aristotle on this point (depending on how one interprets his theory of forms); Since Armstrong nevertheless considers a real existence of universals to be necessary, Armstrong's position, like that of Quine and Penelope Maddy, is often called “ naturalized Platonism” or “immanent realism”.
  • Conceptualism : the variants of the thesis There are abstract objects, but not independent of our thinking. Representatives are for example John Locke (with regard to universals), Edmund Husserl , Luitzen Egbertus Jan Brouwer (especially in the philosophy of mathematics ), Noam Chomsky (with regard to propositions) and Jerry Fodor .
  • Nominalism (vocalism, anti-realism ) with regard to abstract objects: the variants of the thesis There are no abstract objects. This includes:
    • Fictionalism regarding mathematical entities; Thesis: Sentences like “three is a prime number” are to be analyzed in such a way that they speak of abstract objects; but since these do not exist, the sentences are strictly speaking wrong.

Stegmüller investigated in his work The phenomenalism and his difficulties , the function of the word is and makes a classification, which leads to a definition of "Platonism". He assumes three possibilities for an interpretation of the predictive is :

  • This is a dependent language symbol that occurs in sentences as well as in sentence fragments. Sentence fragments are open sentences with an individual variable that can be supplemented in two different ways to form meaningful statements: replacement of the variable by an individual designation or prefixing all or there is (nominalistic interpretation)
  • Occurring in predications predicate expressions are class name, and is suppressed, accordingly, the element classes ratio of (extensional Platonism)
  • Predicates are property names, and that is in a predication accordingly expresses the relation between a thing and the property that this thing possesses (intensional Platonism).


Like any philosophical doctrine, Platonism also has its critics. The following points are involved:

  • the Platonic constitutional theory is criticized as anti-democratic and totalitarian. Karl Popper presented this point of view in The Open Society and Its Enemies .
  • The Platonic doctrine of ideas is criticized from the nominalistic or conceptualistic point of view: For the nominalists and conceptualists, general terms do not denote an independent reality, but exist only in thinking; they are only conventions for the purpose of linguistic understanding. Only the concrete individual things are real.

See also


  • Mauro Bonazzi: Il platonismo. Einaudi, Turin 2015, ISBN 978-88-06-21689-4 .
  • Heinrich Dörrie , Matthias Baltes : Platonism in antiquity. Basics - System - Development. Volumes 1 to 7/1, Frommann-Holzboog, Stuttgart – Bad Cannstatt 1987–2008, ISBN 3-7728-0358-X (numerous source texts on the assessment and aftermath of Plato in antiquity with German translations and detailed comments; description ( memento from 2 May 2012 in the Internet Archive ) of the not yet completed project)
  • Stephen Gersh, Maarten JFM Hoenen (Ed.): The Platonic Tradition in the Middle Ages . De Gruyter, Berlin 2002, ISBN 3-11-016844-8 .
  • James Hankins : Plato in the Italian Renaissance . Brill, Leiden 1994, ISBN 90-04-10095-4 .
  • Udo Reinhold Jeck: Platonica Orientalia. Uncovering a philosophical tradition . Klostermann, Frankfurt am Main 2004, ISBN 3-465-03361-2 .
  • Francis E. Peters : The Origins of Islamic Platonism. The School Tradition. In: Parviz Morewedge (Ed.): Islamic Philosophical Theology . SUNY Press, Albany 1979, pp. 14-45.
  • Gyburg Radke : The theory of the number in Platonism. A systematic textbook . Francke, Tübingen / Basel 2003, ISBN 3-7720-3343-1 .


Web links

Wiktionary: Platonism  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations


  1. ^ Alfred North Whitehead: Process and Reality. New York 1929, p. 63.
  2. After Mark Balaguer: Platonism in Metaphysics. In: Edward N. Zalta (Ed.): Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (online).
  3. See David M. Armstrong: Nominalism and Realism. Cambridge 1978, p. 15.
  4. ^ David M. Armstrong: Nominalism and Realism. Cambridge 1978, p. 113.
  5. One extreme position is, for example, that of Max J. Cresswell: What is Aristotle's Theory of Universals? In: Australasian Journal of Philosophy. Vol. 53, 1975, pp. 238–247, here: 241, according to which the Aristotelian ontology only needs individual things. In this case Armstrong's position would be anti-Aristotelian insofar as it considers the real existence of universals to be imperative; see David M. Armstrong: Nominalism and Realism. Cambridge 1978, p. 16. An extreme exegetical counter-position can be found in the justification of Neoplatonic Aristotle readings, for example in Lloyd P. Gerson: Aristotle and Other Platonists. Ithaca 2005.
  6. ^ Penelope Maddy: The Roots of Contemporary Platonism. In: Journal of Symbolic Logic. Vol. 54, 1989, pp. 1121-1144.
  7. See, for example, Bernard Linsky, Edward Zalta: Naturalized Platonism vs. Platonized Naturalism. In: The Journal of Philosophy. Vol. 92, 1995, pp. 525-555 ( online ).
  8. So z. B. Mark Balaguer: Platonism in Metaphysics. In: Edward N. Zalta (Ed.): Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (online).