Plato’s Dialogues

By Linda Mihalic

Western philosophy and religion both owe an incalculable and undeniable debt to Plato of Athens, who is to Western philosophy what Jesus of Nazareth is to Christianity. Such a pronouncement is not hyperbole, for when such souls take on flesh, they do so to fulfill a mission unique and momentous; such souls always speak absolute truth and change the world for the good. Plato, trained up on the teachings of Pythagoras, gave us the gifts of the Ideal, the True, the Beautiful and the Good. He taught us the nature and nurture of our souls, and God as principle. Jesus, trained up in the teachings of Moses and the Patriarchs, gave us the gifts of soul-healing trust and faith in the wisdom and loving kindness of our Father in heaven, God as personality. Plato is the father of Idealism, and Jesus speaks plainly as an Idealist in his message of the Father. Are these men related? Are they cousins, brothers, or two appearances of one soul? Plato and Jesus are the two sides of one coin, Truth as Wisdom and Truth as Love. We know beyond mere belief that God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.—John 3:16.


“Plato is the father of Idealism, and Jesus speaks plainly as an Idealist in his message of the Father.”—Linda Mihalic


We who walk the Via Christa seek the eternal absolute truths regarding God’s divine reality. We, who dwell in the world of appearances, desire to know more of what lies beyond the veils of illusion that hide God from our direct perception. Pythagoras, who lived 68 years before Plato, was well known for holding to the doctrine of God the One. Thus, the argument that Plato was a polytheist while Jesus was a monotheist is beside the point: Theos (Θεός Greek = God) is both singular and plural, meaning God is the One and the Many. Jesus said, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?—John 10:34, quoting Psalm 82:6: I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.

Benjamin Jowett, Anglican priest and translator of the first comprehensive collection of Plato’s Dialogues into English, loved the works and words of both of these great souls. In 1855, Jowett finished his first book, The Epistles of St. Paul at age 38. He published his translations of The Dialogues of Plato in 1871, and his edition of the Republic was published posthumously in 1894. In its preface, he wrote:

The aim of the Introductions in these volumes has been to represent Plato as the father of Idealism, who is not to be measured by the standard of utilitarianism or any other modern philosophical system. He is the poet or maker of ideas, satisfying the wants of his own age, providing the instruments of thought for future generations. He is no dreamer, but a great philosophical genius struggling with the unequal conditions of light and knowledge under which he is living. He may be illustrated by the writings of moderns, but he must be interpreted by his own, and by his place in the history of philosophy.—Benjamin Jowett.

In presenting Plato’s Dialogues, we have included Benjamin Jowett’s introductions, and the translations of George Bruges, and the Loeb Classical Library editions of Plato, including R. G. Bury, Harold N. Fowler, W. R. M. Lamb, and Paul Shorey. These translations are variously based on the rescensions of John Burnet (Platonic Opera) C.F. Hermann, (Platonis Dialogi), Martin von Schanz (Platonis Opera quae feruntur omnia), the Codex Clarkianus, and the Codex Venetus.


Benjamin Jowett’s Introductions

     Introductions to Plato’s Dialogues I
     Introductions to Plato’s Dialogues II
     Introductions to Plato’s Dialogues III
     Introductions to Plato’s Dialogues: Laws
     Introductions to Plato’s Dialogues: Republic


Loeb Classical Library Editions


Additional Translations and Commentaries

     Clitophon: Geo. Bruges
     The Laws of Plato: A. E. Taylor
     The Life of Plato: Diogenes Laertius
     Phaedo: R. D. Archer-Hind
     Philebus and Epinomis: A. E. Taylor
     Plato: R. W. Emerson
     Plato: A. E. Taylor
     Plato: The Man and His Work I: A. E. Taylor
     Plato: The Man and His Work II: A. E. Taylor
     Platonism: P. Shorey
     Platonism and Its Influence: A. E. Taylor
     Plato’s Biography of Socrates: A. E. Taylor
     Plato’s Phaedo: John Burnet
     Plato’s Unity of Thought: P. Shorey
     Socrates: A. E. Taylor
     Timaeus: R.D. Archer-Hind
     Timaeus: (Greek)
     What Plato Said P. Shorey


The Loeb Classical Library Edition
General Introduction

By W. R. M. Lamb

Plato was born in 427 B.C. of Athenian parents who could provide him with the best education of the day, and ample means and leisure throughout his life. He came to manhood in the dismal close of the Peloponnesian War, when Aristophanes was at the height of his success, and Sophocles and Euripides had produced their last plays. As a boy he doubtless heard the lectures of Gorgias, Protagoras, and other sophists, and his early bent seems to have been towards poetry. But his intelligence was too progressive to rest in the agnostic position on which the sophistic culture was based. A century before, Heracleitus had declared knowledge to be impossible, because the objects of sense are continually changing; yet now a certain Cratylus was trying to build a theory of knowledge over the assertion of flux, by developing some hints let fall by its oracular author about the truth contained in names. From this influence Plato passed into contact with Socrates, whose character and gifts have left a singular impress on the thought of mankind. This effect is almost wholly due to Plato’s applications and extensions of |ix| his master’s thought; since, fortunately for us, the pupil not only became a teacher in his turn, but brought his artistic genius into play, and composed the memorials of philosophic talk which we know as the Dialogues. Xenophon, Antisthenes, and Aeschines were other disciples of Socrates who drew similar sketches of his teaching: the suggestion came from the "mimes" of the Syracusan Sophron,—realistic studies of conversation between ordinary types of character. As Plato became more engrossed in the Socratic speculations, this artistic impulse was strengthened by the desire of recording each definite stage of thought as a basis for new discussion and advance.

When Plato was twenty years old, Socrates was over sixty, and had long been notorious in Athens for his peculiar kind of sophistry. In the Phaedo he tells how he tried, in his youth, the current scientific explanations of the universe, and found them full of puzzles. He then met with the theory of Anaxagoras,—that the cause of everything is "mind." This was more promising: but it led nowhere after all, since it failed to rise above the conception of physical energy; this "mind" showed no intelligent aim. Disappointed of an assurance that the universe works for the best, Socrates betook himself to the plan of making definitions of "beautiful," "good," "large," and so on, as qualities observed in the several classes of beautiful, good and large material things, and then employing these propositions, if they |x| appeared to be sound, for the erection of higher hypotheses. The point is that he made a new science out of a recognized theory of "ideas" or "forms," which had come of reflecting on the quality predicated when we say "this man is good," and which postulates some sure reality behind the fleeting objects of sense. His "hypothetical" method, familiar to mathematicians, attains its full reach and significance in the Republic.

The Pythagoreans who appear in the intimate scene of the Phaedo were accustomed to the theory of ideas, and were a fit audience for the highest reasonings of Socrates on the true nature of life and the soul. For some years before the master’s death (399 B.C.) Plato, if not a member of their circle, was often a spell-bound hearer of the "satyr." But ordinary Athenians had other views of Socrates, which varied according to their age and the extent of their acquaintance with him. Aristophanes’ burlesque in the Clouds (423 B.C.) had left a common impression not unlike what we have of the King of Laputa. Yet the young men who had any frequent speech with him in his later years, while they felt there was something uncanny about him, found an irresistible attraction in his simple manner, his humorous insight into their ways and thoughts, and his fervent eloquence on the principles of their actions and careers. He kept no school, and took no fees; he distrusted the pretensions of the regular sophists, with whom he was carelessly confounded; moreover, he professed |xi| to have no knowledge himself, except so far as to know that he was ignorant. The earliest Dialogues, such as the Apology, Crito, Euthyphro, Charmides, Laches, and Lysis, show the manner in which he performed his ministry. In rousing men, especially those whose minds were fresh, to the need of knowing themselves, he promoted the authority of the intellect, the law of definite individual knowledge, above all reason of state or tie of party; and it is not surprising that his city, in the effort of recovering her political strength, decided to hush such an inconvenient voice. He must have foreseen his fate, but he continued his work undeterred.

Though he seems, in his usual talk, to have professed no positive doctrine, there were one or two beliefs which he frequently declared. Virtue, he said, is knowledge; for each man’s good is his happiness, and once he knows it clearly, he needs must choose to ensue it. Further, this knowledge is innate in our minds, and we only need to have it awakened and exercised by "dialectic," or a systematic course of question and answer. He also believed his mission to be divinely ordained, and asserted that his own actions were guided at times by the prohibitions of a "spiritual sign." He was capable, as we find in the Symposium, of standing in rapt meditation at any moment for some time, and once for as long as twenty-four hours.

It is clear that, if he claimed no comprehensive theory of existence, and although his ethical reliance |xii| on knowledge, if he never analysed it, leaves him in a very crude stage of psychology, his logical and mystical suggestions must have led his favourite pupils a good way towards a new system of metaphysics. These intimates learnt, as they steeped their minds in his, and felt the growth of a unique affection amid the glow of enlightenment, that happiness may be elsewhere than in our dealings with the material world, and that the mind has prerogatives and duties far above the sphere of civic life.

After the death of Socrates in 399, Plato spent some twelve years in study and travel. For the first part of this time he was perhaps at Megara, where Eucleides, his fellow-student and friend, was forming a school of dialectic. Here he may have composed some of the six Dialogues already mentioned as recording Socrates’ activity in Athens. Towards and probably beyond the end of this period, in order to present the Socratic method in bolder conflict with sophistic education, he wrote the Protagoras, Meno, Euthydemus, and Gorgias. These works show a much greater command of dramatic and literary art, and a deeper interest in logic. The last of them may well be later than 387, the year in which, after an all but disastrous attempt to better the mind of Dionysius of Syracuse, he returned to Athens, and, now forty years of age, founded the Academy; where the memory of his master was to be perpetuated by continuing and expanding the |xiii| Socratic discussions among the elect of the new generation. The rivalry of this private college with the professional school of Isocrates is discernible in the subject and tone of the Gorgias. Plato carried on the direction of the Academy till his death, at eighty-one, in 346; save that half-way through this period (367) he accepted the invitation of his friend Dion to undertake the instruction of the younger Dionysius at Syracuse. The elder tyrant had been annoyed by the Socratic freedom of Plato’s talk: now it was a wayward youth who refused the yoke of a systematic training. What that training was like we see in the Republic, where true political wisdom is approached by an arduous ascent through mathematics, logic, and metaphysics. Plato returned, with less hopes of obtaining the ideal ruler, to make wonderful conquests in the realm of thought.

The Meno and Gorgias set forth the doctrine that knowledge of right is latent in our minds: dialectic, not the rhetoric of the schools, is the means of eliciting it. The method, as Plato soon perceived, must be long and difficult: but he felt a mystical rapture over its certainty, which led him to picture the immutable "forms" as existing in a world of their own. This feeling, and the conviction whence it springs—that knowledge is somehow possible, had come to the front of his mind when he began to know Socrates. Two brilliant compositions, the Cratylus and Symposium, display the strength of the conviction, and then, the noble fervour of the |xiv| feeling. In the latter of these works, the highest powers of imaginative sympathy and eloquence are summoned to unveil the sacred vision of absolute beauty. The Phaedo turns the logical theory upon the soul, which is seen to enjoy, when freed from the body, familiar cognition of the eternal types of being. Here Orphic dogma lends its aid to the Socratic search for knowledge, while we behold an inspiring picture of the philosopher in his hour of death.

With increasing confidence in himself as the successor of Socrates, Plato next undertook, in the Republic, to show the master meeting his own unsatisfied queries on education and politics. We read now of a "form" of good to which all thought and action aspire, and which, contemplated in itself, will explain not merely why justice is better than injustice, but the meaning and aim of everything. In order that man may be fully understood, we are to view him "writ large" in the organization of an ideal state. The scheme of description opens out into many subsidiary topics, including three great proposals already known to Greece,—the abolition of private property, the community of women and children, and the civic equality of the sexes. But the central subject is the preparation of the philosopher, through a series of ancillary sciences, for dialectic; so that, once possessed of the supreme truth, he may have light for directing his fellow-men. As in the Phaedo, the spell of mythical revelation is |xv| brought to enhance the discourse of reason. The Phaedrus takes up the subject of rhetoric, to lead us allegorically into the realm of "ideas," and thence to point out a new rhetoric, worthy of the well-trained dialectician. We get also a glimpse of the philosopher’s duty of investigating the mutual relations of the "forms" to which his study of particular things has led him.

A closer interest in logical method, appearing through his delight in imaginative construction, is one distinctive mark of this middle stage in Plato’s teaching. As he passes to the next two Dialogues, the Theaetetus and Parmenides, he puts off the aesthetic rapture, and considers the ideas as categories of thought which require coordination. The discussion of knowledge in the former makes it evident that the Academy was now the meeting-place of vigorous minds, some of which were eager to urge or hear refuted the doctrines they had learnt from other schools of thought; while the arguments are conducted with a critical caution very different from the brilliant and often hasty zeal of Socrates. The Parmenides corrects an actual or possible misconception of the theory of ideas in the domain of logic, showing perhaps how Aristotle, now a youthful disciple of Plato, found fault with the theory as he understood it. The forms are viewed in the light of the necessities of thought: knowledge is to be attained by a careful practice which will raise our minds to the vision of all particulars |xvi| in their rightly distinguished and connected classes.

Plato is here at work on his own great problem:—If what we know is a single permanent law under which a multitude of things are ranged, what is the link between the one and the many? The Sophist contains some of his ripest thought on this increasingly urgent question: his confident advance beyond Socratic teaching is indicated by the literary form, which hardly disguises the continuous exposition of a lecture. We observe an attention to physical science, the association of soul, motion, and existence, and the comparative study of being and not-being. The Politicus returns to the topic of state-government, and carries on the process of acquiring perfect notions of reality by the classification of things. Perhaps we should see in the absolute ‘mean’ which is posited as the standard of all arts, business, and conduct, a contribution from Aristotle. The Philebus, in dealing with pleasure and knowledge, dwells further on the correct division and classification required if our reason, as it surely must, is to apprehend truth. The method is becoming more thorough and more complex, and Plato’s hope of bringing it to completion is more remote. But he is gaining a clearer insight into the problem of unity and plurality.

The magnificent myth of the Timaeus, related by a Pythagorean, describes the structure of the universe, so as to show how the One manifests |xvii| itself as the Many. We have here the latest reflections of Plato on space, time, soul, and many physical matters. In the lengthy treatise of the Laws, he addresses himself to the final duty of the philosopher as announced in the Republic: a long habituation to abstract thought will qualify rather than disqualify him for the practical regulation of public and private affairs. Attention is fixed once more on soul, as the energy of the world and the vehicle of our sovereign reason.

Thus Plato maintains the fixity of the objects of knowledge in a great variety of studies, which enlarge the compass of Socrates’ teaching till it embraces enough material for complete systems of logic and metaphysics. How far these systems were actually worked out in the discussions of the Academy we can only surmise from the Dialogues themselves and a careful comparison of Aristotle; whose writings, however, have come down to us in a much less perfect state. But it seems probable that, to the end, Plato was too fertile in thought to rest content with one authoritative body of doctrine. We may be able to detect in the Timaeus a tendency to view numbers as the real principles of things; and we may conjecture a late-found interest in the physical complexion of the world. As a true artist, with a keen sense of the beauty and stir of life, Plato had this interest, in a notable degree, throughout: but in speaking of his enthusiasm for science we must regard him rather as a great inventor of |xviii| sciences than as what we should now call a scientist. This is giving him a splendid name, which few men have earned. Some of his inventions may be unrealizable, but it is hard to find one that is certainly futile. There are flaws in his arguments: to state them clearly and fairly is to win the privilege of taking part in a discussion at the Academy.

W. R. M. Lamb.

Note.—Each of the Dialogues is a self-contained whole. The order in which they have been mentioned in this Introduction is that which agrees best in the main with modern views of Plato’s mental progress, though the succession in some instances is uncertain.

The special introductions are intended merely to prepare the reader for the general character and purpose of each dialogue.

W. R. M. Lamb.


Bibliography

The following give useful accounts of Socratic and Platonic thought:—

T. Gomperz: The Greek Thinkers, vols. ii. and iii. Murray, 1901-5.

W. Lutoslawski: The Origin and Growth of Plato’s Logic. Longmans, 1897.

R. L. Nettleship: Philosophic Lectures and Remains. 2 vols. Macmillan, 2nd ed., 1901.

D. G. Ritchie: Plato, T. and T. Clark, 1902.

J. A. Stewart: The Myths of Plato. Macmillan, 1905. Plato’s Doctrine of Ideas. Clarendon Press, 1909.

A. E. Taylor: Plato. Constable, 1911.

A. M. Adam: Plato: Moral and Political Ideals. Cambridge University Press, 1913.

H. Jackson: Presocratics, Socrates and the Minor Socratics, Plato and the Old Academy (Cambridge Companion to Greek Studies). Cambridge University Press, 1905.

John Burnet: Greek Philosophy: Thales to Plato. Macmillan, 191p

The following are important editions:—

J. Adam: The Republic. 2 vols. Cambridge University Press, 1902.

W. H. Thompson: The Phaedrus. Bell, 1868. The Gorgias. Bell, 1871.

R. D. Archer-Hind: The Phaedo. Macmillan, 2nd ed., 1894. The Timaeus. Macmillan, 1888.

John Burnet. The Phaedo. Clarendon Press, 1911.

L. Campbell: The Theaetetus. Clarendon Press, 1883. The Sophistes and Politicus. Clarendon Press, 1867.

E. S. Thompson: The Meno. Macmillan, 1901.

E. B. England: The Laws. 2 vols. Manchester University Press, 1921.

Plato of Athens
428 B.C. — 348 B.C.
Premier Greek philosopher, the Father of Idealism in its many facets: philosophy, metaphysics, psychology, mysticism, esthetics, ethics, education, literature, and politics


Plato


References

Read more about Benjamin Jowett, translator of the first comprehensive collection of Plato’s Dialogues in English.

Plato, The Dialogues of Plato translated into English with Analyses and Introductions by B. Jowett, M.A. 5 volumes. 3rd edition revised and corrected. London: Oxford University Press, 1892. This work is in the public domain.

Plato. The Phaedo of Plato, R. D. Archer-Hind, ed. London and New York: Macmillan & Co., 2nd edition, 1894. This work is in the public domain.

Plato. Loeb Clasical Library, 12 volumes, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press. These works are in the public domain.

Plato. The Timaeus of Plato, R. D. Archer-Hind, ed. London: Macmillan & Co. 1888. This work is in the public domain.