The Greek Greats: Plato the Athenian Schoolmaster
While the poets, actors and playwrights of Greece gave us compelling stories and great heroes, the Greek philosophers gave us teachings about the deeper things of life, and Plato is credited with being the most important teacher of Greece. But to understand Plato we must understand the definition of metaphysics because he was a metaphysical philosopher. And Webster defines metaphysics as a:
Division of philosophy that is concerned with the fundamental nature of reality and
being, and a study of what is outside objective experience.
The encyclopedia Britannica describes Plato’s philosophy as being about “the perfect chairness” of a chair or about the very essence and attributes of a chair or the perfect essence of a human individual beyond this physical world.
Plato believed that there were actually two realities existing side by side, a perfect eternal spiritual world containing the truest, purest essence of physical things and a world full of beauty and truth and our imperfect, temporal physical world, and he was also the first man in the occidental world to teach that man has an eternal soul, a soul that he divided into three parts: reason, spirit and appetite, And this trait of reason, seated in the head, he ascribes to teachers and philosophers; spirit, seated in the chest, he ascribes to the brave and loyal warrior class, and appetite, located in the abdomen, he ascribed to the tradesman and the merchants. He also believed that human government and society should be structured as a kind of a caste system with the philosopher kings at the top, as opposed to Athenian democracy with one of his most important works being entitled The Republic.
Plato was the student of Socrates, the teacher who was condemned to a poisoning death by the Greeks in Athens for his opposition to Athenian democracy, his impiety to the gods, and corrupting the youth, and Aristotle was Plato’s student. And Plato is also credited with being the founder of the the world’s first university, and while Socrates actually wrote nothing, Plato wrote two great works, The Dialogues and The Republic both of which the original manuscripts have survived in their entirety to this very day, In the following three quotes Plato asserts that man does not know everything and describes the reaction of his contemporaries to this truth.
“I am the wisest man alive alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing,”
“To fear death, gentlemen, is no other than to think oneself wise when one is not is not, to
think one knows what he does not know. No one knows whether death may not be the
greatest of all blessings for a man, yet men fear it as if they knew it was the greatest of all
“What is their hatred but a but a proof that I am speaking the truth.”
Plato also said that “A life examined is not worth living.” And Plato was not only a man of such high ideals and possessed an uncanny knowledge of a world beyond our world, but he was also a man of science and mathematics, setting the tone for the Western logic and medicine of this present day and was called the father of mathematics by present day scholars,
This concludes my series on Greece’s wise poets of the past; next week we’ll examine one of Greece’s wise poets of the present day.