63. Plato’s Dialogues: Alcibiades and the Challenge of Self-Examination

Socrates had a challenge with the prideful Alcibiades in guiding him through a journey of self-discovery in which he realized his own ignorance.
Alcibiades Being Taught by Socrates (1776) by neoclassical French painter François-André Vincent

Alcibiades was a young man in Athens who seemingly had everything: looks, noble birth, friends and connections in high places, and intense ambition to go with it all. He was a proud young man who elicited envy from his peers. One person who wasn’t envious, but instead, deeply concerned, was none other than Socrates himself. Socrates’ line of intense questioning led the nineteen-year-old Alcibiades on a journey of self-discovery with hopes of his betterment as a citizen and leader.

Welcome to one of Plato’s earliest and most intriguing dialogues – Alcibiades. It is also one of the most foundational because through the entertaining interchange between Socrates and Alcibiades, Plato brings us into the deeper philosophical waters of self-examination and the meaning of human nature.

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62. Plato’s Great Political Failures in Sicily and Beyond

Plato's failures in Sicily with Dionysius I and II indicate how difficult it can be for a government to rule with principles of virtue. Today, we recognize Plato's teachings as ultimately focusing on virtuous leadership.
Dionysius II makes Damocles aware of the sword hanging above his head in a painting by Richard Westall, 1812

Plato failed. He failed three times in trying to establish his ideal philosopher-king in Syracuse, Sicily. But when we think of Plato, we do not think of failure; on the contrary, we think of one of the most accomplished people in history. After all, he did leave an impressive corpus of philosophical dialogues that proved to be indispensable in laying the foundation of Western civilization. He is in that exclusive club of the top five most influential philosophers of Western civilization that includes, aside from himself, Aristotle, Descartes, Kant, and Marx. But Plato also failed, and failed miserably. In this post, I want to talk about why this aspect of Plato’s life is relevant for us today.

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61. Plato Establishes His Academy – The Greatest Philosopher 5

Plato established his Academy in Athens after a run-in with Dionysius I, being sold into slavery, and almost being sentenced to death in Aegina.
The modern Academy of Athens, ext. March 18, 1926, is based in principle on Plato’s Academy.

This is part five of a fictional dialogue amongst friends discussing the life of Plato. Please read the previous post for immediate context. If you want to start at the beginning, see post 57. Plato fled Athens after the execution of his friend and teacher Socrates for obvious reasons. Plato traveled for almost two decades afterward, his most significant time being spent in Egypt. After his time in Egypt, he traveled to Sicily where he found himself in hot water with Dionysius I, tyrant of Sicily. We pick up the story at the end of a conversation between Plato and Dionysius that quickly turned sour.

Come and join Xenon and the other guests as they meet at the home of Damien for dinner and conversation about the life of Plato….

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60. Plato’s First Visit to Sicily – The Greatest Philosopher 4

In Sicily, Plato asked Dion to help get his ideas to Dionysius so he could spread his ideas about virtue to the people.
Dion Presents Plato to Dionysius, Anonymous, 1876

This is part four of a fictional dialogue discussing the life of Plato. If you wish to start at the beginning, please see post 57. Young Plato fled Athens for obvious reasons after the death of his teacher Socrates. He spent some time in Cyrene where he learned mathematics, and then he lived in Egypt for about twelve years where he became steeped in metaphysics, Egyptian style. It was there that he was introduced to the concept of Forms.

In this post, Plato leaves the ideal philosophical world and enters the rough-and-tumble world of real-life politics in Sicily. This is apt training for someone about to return to his hometown of Athens.

So, come and join Xenon and the other guests as they once again meet at the home of Damien for dinner and conversation about the life of Plato….

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59. Plato in Egypt – The Greatest Philosopher 3

Plato traveled to Egypt after the death of Socrates and there, he learned from the Egyptian philosopher-priests.
Egyptian Temple Ruins in Luxor

This is part three of a fictional dialogue discussing the life of Plato. In the previous post, Plato fled Athens after the execution of his friend and teacher Socrates (I suggest also reading the first part of the story, if you haven’t already). Plato traveled for almost two decades afterward, his most significant time being spent in Egypt. These years of travel, especially were very significant in forming Plato’s thoughts, which is why it is perplexing to me that not more is written about this when discussing his philosophy.

So, come and join Xenon and the other guests as they meet at the home of Damien for dinner and conversation about the life of Plato….

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58. Plato – The Greatest Philosopher 2

The Acropolis, center of economics and politics for Athenians like Plato and Socrates.
The Acropolis in Athens, by German painter Leo von Klenze, oil on canvas, 1846

After publishing the previous post, not surprisingly I received some email inquiries concerning the virgin birth of Plato. I will comment on that later, but first I would like to finish the dialogue-story about the life of Plato that I started in Post 57. Please see that post if you wish to read this story from the beginning.

Previously, the Athenian businessman/philosopher Damien hosted a visitor from Southern Italy named Xenon at his home. Xenon was in Athens for business and Plato had just died earlier that morning. Others were in attendance at Damien’s home including the poet Antimachus. Damien discussed the circumstances surrounding Plato’s birth and death as an intrigued Xenon listened intently.

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57. Plato – The Greatest Philosopher

Agathon and Philosophers, Plato's Symposium Painting by Anselm Feuerbach
Plato’s Symposium by Anselm Feuerbach, 1869

Plato (428-347 B.C.) is considered by many to be the greatest philosopher who ever lived. He is personally my favorite. I consider myself a Platonist, albeit with some modifications, of course. In this regard, I consider the previous 56 posts as simply a prologue to this post. A.N. Whitehead (1861-1947), an English mathematician and philosopher, said the following:

“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”1

What made him so great? The heart of the answer to this question lies in a quote by Proclus, a 5th century Neoplatonist philosopher:

“The most peculiar and firm principle of all the dialogues of Plato, and of the whole theory of that philosopher, is the knowledge of our own nature.”2

The ancients talked about this idea of knowing oneself as a starting point for the knowledge of the universe. According to Proclus, this encapsulates the essence of Plato’s philosophy which is why, no matter how esoteric some of his ideas may seem, he has resonated with people throughout time and across cultures. Plato gives us keen insight into our human nature, thus giving us tools to understand the universe.

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56. The Hope of Resurrection and the Hopelessness of Reincarnation

An icon portraying the doctrine of the Resurrection of Christ, giving us some hint of what might happen to the body in the afterlife.
An Icon of the Resurrection of Christ by Robert J. Andrews, “America’s Truly Byzantine Iconographer”

In the West, we have three main beliefs concerning the afterlife – materialistic annihilation, reincarnation, and resurrection. Before continuing with this post, stop briefly for a moment and consider what your view is of the afterlife, if indeed you have given it much thought. Please leave your comments below.

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55. Man Is the Measure of All Things

Protagoras posited a universal truth that is not in conflict with natural law nor legal positivism.
da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man

Is man the measure of all things? And what does Protagoras mean by this exactly? Some have called him the father of relativism, but we will see in this article that Protagoras actually meant something very different by his famous statement. Read on to see how this relates to issues such as the Civil Rights movement of the 20th century and the debate over abortion.

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54. Protagoras – The First Sophist and Philosophical Revolutionary

The philosophy of the most well-known Sophist, Protagoras, included a phrase 'man is the measure.'
Protagoras

“Man is the measure of all things.”

This famous dictum is familiar to most of us, yet I imagine that most people have no idea who uttered those words. You can probably guess by the title of this post that it was none other than the philosopher Protagoras. But what did he mean by it and why are there different interpretations of such a simple phrase?

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