Plato. The Academy. Four Theories

The Perseus Digital Library went online in 1995. The development of the library began in 1987. Yale University Press published CD-ROM versions in 1992 and 1996. A CD-ROM is an optical disk for data storage and retrieval. They were popular before everything went online.

Before 1995, we relied on books.

The image is of the first page of the Phaedo (book four in the first tetralogy of Plato's dialogues).

Here is part of the first two lines:

"Yourself, Phaedo, were you with Socrates on the day when he drank the poison in prison (αὐτός, ὦ Φαίδων, παρεγένου Σωκράτει ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ᾗ τὸ φάρμακον ἔπιεν ἐν τῷ δεσμωτηρίῳ)"

Platonis Opera, Tomvs I. Tetralogia I-II Continens. Edited by John Burnet. Oxford University Press, 1900.

In graduate school, I bought the book I used for this image.

The book was expensive, especially for a graduate student in philosphy. Now, thanks to donations, the texts are available online in the Perseus Digital Library.

A new edition came out in 1995: Platonis Opera, Tomus. I. Tetralogias I-II Continens. Edited by E. A. Duke, W. F. Hicken, W. S. M. Nicoll, D. B. Robinson & J. C. G. Strachan). Oxford University Press.

"[T]he last of the Pythagoreans... were Xenophilus from the Thracian Chalcidice, Phanton of Phlius, and Echecrates, Diocles and Polymnastus, also of Phlius, who were pupils of Philolaus and Eurytus of Tarentum" (Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers VIII.46).

"Phaedo was a native of Elis, of noble family, who on the fall of that city was taken captive and forcibly consigned to a house of ill-fame. But he ... contrive[d] to join Socrates’ circle, and in the end Socrates induced Alcibiades or Crito with their friends to ransom him; from that time onwards he studied philosophy as became a free man" (Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers II.105).
Plato nowhere explains what he is trying to accomplish in particular dialogues or why he writes at all, but it is easy to get the impression that his use of the character Socrates in the middle dialogues marks a new phase in his effort to understand what the historical Socrates got right about the good life. Socrates continues as the main character, but he no longer just asks questions. Now he argues for the views that have come to be known as

• The Theory of Recollection
• The Theory of Forms
• The Tripartite Theory of the Soul
• The Theory of Justice.

We are going to look at these theories in the Meno, the Phaedo, and the Republic. In these theories, although the character Socrates gives them, he speaks for Plato.

Meno is visiting Athens from Thessaly (in the north of Greece). He asks Socrates how virtue is acquired. In the course of the conversation, Socrates introduces the Theory of Recollection.

The dialogue is set in Phlius (about 75 miles west of Athens). Echecrates asks Phaedo (apparently on his way home to Elis (about 125 miles further west) about Socrates' last day. Phaedo retells the conversation Socrates had with his friends in prison on the day of his execution. In this conversation, as part of the explanation for why the φιλόσοφος or "lover of wisdom" does not fear death, Socrates introduces the Theory of Forms.

Glaucon and Adeimantus (Plato's brothers) challenge Socrates to show that justice pays and that the just are happier than the unjust. In reply, he explains what justice is in an individual human being and in a city. He introduces the Tripartite Theory of the Soul as part of his explanation of what justice is in an individual, and he goes on to argue that justice does pay and that those whose souls are just are happier than those whose souls are not just.

The Republic is Plato's second longest dialogue. Only the Laws (a late dialogue) is longer.

Sets of Selected Texts

The following sets of selected texts are grouped by topics.

This makes the reading more manageable for a semester course, but the absence of context can make the import of the texts difficult to appreciate. It helps to read the lectures first.

Theory of Recollection
Meno complains that he cannot answer Socrates' what is virtue question and that the problem is with the question, not with him. In reply, in the Theory of Recollection, Socrates argues that we can recollect the answer because it is in the soul before it enters the body.

The Theory of Forms
Socrates argues that there are objects he calls "forms" (είδη), that they are unchanging, that they are grasped in reason, and that the body is an obstacle to grasping them.

Tripartite Theory of the Soul
Socrates argues that the soul has three parts (reason, spirit, and appetite) and that each can give rise to desire. This is inconsistent with the intellectualism about desire in the Protagoras.

Justice in a City and an Individual
Socrates argue for a view of justice. In a "city" (πόλις), it is the organization that best achieves the purpose for which human beings come together to live in cities. In an individual human being, it is the appropriate organization of the three parts of the soul.

The Just Life is Better
Socrates argues that the just life is better than the unjust life.

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