427 BC – 347 BC
Philosopherby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
Did you know that Plato was not really the name of the great philosopher of his time? His name was actually Aristocles, son of Ariston, a direct descendant of Codrus, the last legendary king of Athens. . Plato was just a nickname he acquired that means “Broad” and is thought to have been referring to how wide his shoulders were. Plato was born in Athens, Greece in 427 BC, and died in 347 BC at about age 80.
He later went on to study with Socrates. He learned to reason and debate through Socrates. Plato was very close to him, and when he watched Socrates’ trial and murder in 399 BC, it disillusioned him greatly. He no longer trusted the government of Greece; so he decided to open a school in Athens instead of going into politics like everyone in his family had. Plato’s school for philosophers was started so that he could train those who would some day be his leaders of cities. His most famous student was Aristotle who later tutored Alexander the Great. Plato promoted ideas that would eventually effect even Thomas Aquinas who changed Catholic Doctrine to make it conform to the works of Aristotle.
Plato’s ideas have greatly influenced the of modern governments such as in the founding of the American system. For example, Plato stated, “Unless philosophers bear kingly rule in cities or those who are now called kings and princes become genuine and adequate philosophers, and political power and philosophy are brought together . . . there will be no respite from evil for cities.” – Plato1 and “The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.” – Plato2
From these first democratic societies of the Greeks, Plato's teaching has has not neccesarily been proven over time. The political philosopher, Hilter, for example, was democratically elected by an intellegent populace who were very concerned with public affairs.
Plato’s thoughts about perceptions of reality are still of interest today. One allegory went something like this: Suppose a few men were captured when they were born, and made to live in a cave. They are chained by their neck and feet so that they cannot move at all. The men are facing a wall of stone. Behind them burns a fire. In front of that is a wall along which their captors walk with puppets in their hands. The only truth they know is that of what shadows look like and muffled sound echoing throughout the hall. They know not what a true boat looks like, just the shadow of a boat. They make words for the objects they see. One day one of the men breaks free and gets out of the cave into the world. He sees the fire and the puppets and knows that all he has known all his life was just a piece of all he knew. He got to the outdoors and was blinded by the sun. He had to re-learn what the world really was like. He learned what true boats looked like and found that they were not at all like their shadows. He decided that his friends in the cave should also know that what they saw was not real, but was just an image cast from a wavering fire. When he went down and told them, they laughed at him and told him he was wrong. They said ‘Look! Can you not see the wall? That on the wall is a boat.’ He persisted in his story of the light, and they eventually killed him.
This great analogy can apply to what we know about heavens. As it is written in 1 Corinthians 13:12, "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." Plato sensed that there was a reality apart from his perception as many had sensed before him. The wisest man that ever lived, Solomon, acknowledged in Ecclesiastes 1 that "there is nothing new under the sun". Indeed, centuries before Plato, it was recorded in Job 12:22, "He [God] reveals mysteries from the darkness and brings the deep darkness into light."
The mysterious shadows of life can only be brought to the light of understanding by God as explained by the Apostle in John 1:5 "And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not." And they killed what they didn't understand as they were afraid of the reality of their sins and crucified the Light. Plato knew of this human fear factor, "We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark. The real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light." –Plato3
Although Plato died in 347 BC, but his teaching continues to influence governments systems and even doctrines4 of the Roman Catholic Church. Most philosophers from antiquity up to today have stood on Plato's broad shoulders attempting to use what he offered and see beyond the cave's shadows.
2 Plato, http://www.mp3holyspirit.com/quotations/plato-quotes.html
3 Plato, http://www.saidwhat.co.uk/quotes/p/plato_646.php.com
4 Plato, via Aristotle, via Acquinas, has colored the interpretation of verses such as Hebrews 10:1 "For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices which are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who draw near." And, on rules about eating, drinking and special days,
"Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body [is] of Christ." (Col 2:17)