The first systematic treatment of philosophy, and arguably the most influential, in the West can be found in works of Plato, in particular in his works the Phaedo, the Republic and the Timaeus which are by most accounts the most influential of Plato’s works.  Despite his unique approach to philosophy, both in terms of his writing style as well as content, Plato nonetheless did not evolve in a vacuum, influenced in no small measure by the “poets”, Homer and Hesiod standing out of course given their vast influence on Hellenic culture and society overall.  Also, from a philosophical perspective, we see clear traces of some of the philosophical tenets of some of the so-called “Pre-Socratics”, Heraclitus and Pythagoras in particular.  We also see traces and hints of the mystery cults as well, with Orphism standing out but Plato is clearly no stranger to the Eleusinian Mysteries either.

Plato does not altogether dismiss the mythic and mystic traditions that were mainstays in Hellenic culture during classical Greece when Plato lived and wrote, and he most certainly does not entirely dismiss the relevance or existence of the gods per se upon which these traditions rested.[1]  He nonetheless however breaks free from these characteristically Hellenic “religions”, if we use that term broadly, expanding upon some of the philosophical traditions that came before him and for the most part relegating myth and mystery to the poets and mystics.  For with Plato, no doubt with his teacher Socrates as well, we see a dramatic shift away from the ancient wisdom that lay buried in myth and mystery, and a pivot toward reason and logiclogos and dialectic – as tools for determining the true nature of reality and knowledge – the domain of the philosopher – characteristics that in turn become trademarks of Hellenic philosophical tradition itself.

At the time that Plato started his philosophical endeavors, the Greek society and culture at large was imbued with a variety of mystery cults traditions such as the Orphism and the Cult of Dionysus which were both close cousins to the mystery cult traditions presided over by Egyptian priests with whom both Pythagoras and Plato are both to have believed to have studied with.  Furthermore, Greek society at the time was heavily influenced by a lively mythic and poetic tradition (hymnos) as represented by the prevalence and popularity of the works of Homer, Hesiod and Orpheus which were shrouded in a world of mystery and tales of heroes from deep antiquity, journeys to the underworld (Hades), and epic battles of the gods from which the race of man ultimately descended.  Plato was influenced by all of these sociological and theological forces and even if he didn’t reject them outright (at least not in his published works), he attempted to place these ancient belief systems into a much richer intellectual framework from which philosophy, what we today call science, was from then on pursued as its own discipline.

One, if not the, central tenet of Plato’s philosophy is the fundamental reality and ontological primacy of what came to be known as forms or ideas[2], a theory which is introduced in the Phaedo as an argument for the immortality of the Soul and is explored in much more detail in the Republic, a dialogue whose central theme is the nature of justice and its relationship to happiness, the Greek eudaimonia, and its role in the construction and management of the ideal state.[3]  Plato’s idealism, to use a more modern term to describe his theory of forms, not only provided the epistemological foundations of his philosophy as a whole, but also in turn provided the intellectual foundation of his ethics and socio-political philosophy which was based upon the necessity and value of virtue and wisdom, i.e. sophia, concepts which he held were realities in and of themselves which were the goals of philosophical inquiry, just as justice and happiness should be the goals of the state.[4]

Perhaps the most famous illustration of Plato’s idealism, his theory of forms, and the role of the Good as the source of all things, the penultimate idea as it were, is summed up in the Allegory of the Cave from what is believed to be the most mature work of his middle period, namely the Republic.[5]  In this graphic metaphor, Socrates describes a group of people who have been chained to a wall in a cave for their whole lives, a chain which does not allow their heads to move and therefore they can only see what is directly in front of their field of vision.  There is a fire behind them, which casts shadows upon images and forms that are moved behind the chained souls on the top of a wall, much like a puppet show casts characters across the field of a wooden stage.

“Next,” said I, “compare our nature in respect of education and its lack to such an experience as this. Picture men dwelling in a sort of subterranean cavern with a long entrance open to the light on its entire width.  Conceive them as having their legs and necks fettered from childhood, so that they remain in the same spot, able to look forward only, and prevented by the fetters from turning their heads.  Picture further the light from a fire burning higher up and at a distance behind them, and between the fire and the prisoners and above them a road along which a low wall has been built, as the exhibitors of puppet-shows have partitions before the men themselves, above which they show the puppets.”  “All that I see,” he said.  “See also, then, men carrying past the wall implements of all kinds that rise above the wall, and human images and shapes of animals as well, wrought in stone and wood and every material, some of these bearers presumably speaking and others silent.”[6]

So the chained souls can see shadows in front of them, or forms, projected to the wall in front of them off of the fire that blazes behind them which they cannot see.  Hence these people know only shadows and forms their whole lives, although they believe this to be the one and only reality for they know nothing else.  Such is the source and nature of ignorance, for these people know not what they do not know, in much the same way as Heraclitus deemed his teachings to be misunderstood by most.

“Then in every way such prisoners would deem reality to be nothing else than the shadows of the artificial objects.”  “Quite inevitably,” he said.  “Consider, then, what would be the manner of the release and healing from these bonds and this folly if in the course of nature something of this sort should happen to them:  When one was freed from his fetters and compelled to stand up suddenly and turn his head around and walk and to lift up his eyes to the light, and in doing all this felt pain and, because of the dazzle and glitter of the light, was unable to discern the objects whose shadows he formerly saw, what do you suppose would be his answer if someone told him that what he had seen before was all a cheat and an illusion, but that now, being nearer to reality and turned toward more real things, he saw more truly?  And if also one should point out to him each of the passing objects and constrain him by questions to say what it is, do you not think that he would be at a loss and that he would regard what he formerly saw as more real than the things now pointed out to him?”  “Far more real,” he said.[7]

Here Plato not only provides the analogy of knowledge, at least the first form of higher knowledge of Forms, ideas, in and of themselves as being the true nature, the source of the shadows and images that the chained prisoners see on the wall in front of them from the reflection of the fire, but also alludes to the difficult role of the philosopher who is trying to illustrate the true nature of reality to those who are bound in chains and can see only shadows and reflections of Truth – i.e. Forms and ideas.

“And if he were compelled to look at the light itself, would not that pain his eyes, and would he not turn away and flee to those things which he is able to discern and regard them as in very deed more clear and exact than the objects pointed out?”  “It is so,” he said.  “And if,” said I, “someone should drag him thence by force up the ascent which is rough and steep, and not let him go before he had drawn him out into the light of the sun, do you not think that he would find it painful to be so haled along, and would chafe at it, and when he came out into the light, that his eyes would be filled with its beams so that he would not be able to see even one of the things that we call real?”  “Why, no, not immediately,” he said.  “Then there would be need of habituation, I take it, to enable him to see the things higher up.  And at first he would most easily discern the shadows and, after that, the likenesses or reflections in water of men and other things, and later, the things themselves, and from these he would go on to contemplate the appearances in the heavens and heaven itself, more easily by night, looking at the light of the stars and the moon, than by day the sun and the sun’s light.”  “Of course.”[8]

If they are released from their intellectual “bondage”, the veil of their ignorance removed, and they would were to leave the cave itself, and arrive outside and see the sun for the first time, the source of the light of the actual shapes and “things” which have their images and shadows reflected on the wall that they have seen their whole lives and thought to be “Truth” and “reality”, they would for the very first time be “illumined” so to speak, and they would finally be able to see things for what they truly are.

“And so, finally, I suppose, he would be able to look upon the sun itself and see its true nature, not by reflections in water or phantasms of it in an alien setting, but in and by itself in its own place.”  “Necessarily,” he said.  “And at this point he would infer and conclude that this it is that provides the seasons and the courses of the year and presides over all things in the visible region, and is in some sort the cause of all these things that they had seen.”[9]

Here Plato alludes to the final source and true nature of everything that is mistaken for reality, i.e. the Sun or the Good, which represents the final goal, the endpoint as it were, of all intellectual and philosophical pursuit – to understand Truth and the source and nature of all that exists.  The Good to Plato is the ultimate idea, the source of all Ideas and forms, and from which any conception of anything material is derived.

In this same passage, Socrates describes the perils of the philosopher who tries to show the true nature of reality to those who are bound in the cave and who live in ignorance, going so far as to suggest – as was the very case for Socrates himself in fact – that if he were to try and illustrate the true nature of reality to those who lived in ignorance not only would he be laughed at but that he also would in fact be killed (517a).

Depiction of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave by Cornelis van Haarlem, 1604. [10]

The philosopher to Plato then is like a person who is freed from this cave, and is let out into the light of the sun, where he sees and realizes that everything that he has thought to be real, has only been a shadow of truth and reality.  In its simplest interpretation, the Allegory of the Cave can be viewed as outlining and defining Plato’s belief in the supremacy of forms or ideas over knowledge derived from sensory perception or the material world, i.e. his theory of forms.


The first of his works that most scholars believe lays out the basic framework of Plato’s primary philosophical tenets is Phaedo, a work which circulated in antiquity under the title of On the Soul.  This work is believed to be one of the first works from his Middle Period, and although the narrative takes place on the day that Socrates is put to death, linking the dialogue with some of his earlier works which deal with the fate of Socrates and “Socratic” philosophy (as distinct from the Platonic philosophy), it nonetheless lays out the basic argument for not just the immortality of the Soul, but the ontological supremacy of the world of intelligibles – forms and ideas – over the visible or material world of “things” or “objects”, i.e. that which is perceived by the senses.  The dialogue takes place between several followers and friends of Socrates on the eve of his death, a quite dramatic scene and considered to be one of the best and greatest of the literary works produced by Plato.  Phaedo is one of the characters of the dialogue and he is the narrator of the tale and is supposedly present on the day of Socrates death at the place of his imprisonment and therefore in a position to speak on a first-hand basis about the topics and conversations held just before Socrates is put to death.[11]

Naturally, the question of the nature of the death, whether or not there is anything that persists beyond death, and whether or not death itself should be feared, arises, initially posed as to whether or not it is just for one to take his own life.  Plato, through Socrates, explains that philosophy is in fact, if anything the study of death and dying, the preparation for death as it were, and as such the philosopher should not fear death, but welcome it.  Furthermore, Socrates explains that it is not right for one to kill himself for the Soul is owned by the gods as he puts it, and as such it would not be right to take it before its time- before “god sends some necessity upon him, such as now come upon me” as Socrates puts it[12] – just as it would not be right to take something of someone’s else possession without their permission.   This view is challenged however, and it is in this context that Plato, again through Socrates, lays out his argument for the immortality of the Soul[13], explaining his sentiment that “I not only do not grieve, but I have great hopes that there is something in store for the dead, and, as has been said of old, something better for the good than for the wicked.”[14]  The argument rests on the belief that death itself is the separation of the Soul from the body, and that the philosopher is primarily concerned with the nature of the Soul, and things akin to it, as distinguished from things of the world which are associated with the mortal body and hence explaining why the philosopher is concerned more with the nature of death than the nature of life as it were.  To Plato, it is this pursuit of wisdom, sophia, as an end in and of itself that ultimately defines the philosopher and separates him from the masses, and the means by which he can not only prepare himself for death but in turn understand that which persists beyond death.  In this pursuit, the senses are not just relegated to secondary importance with respect to the attainment or truth or wisdom, but are to be shunned altogether as deceiving.

For, if pure knowledge is impossible while the body is with us, one of two thing must follow, either it cannot be acquired at all or only when we are dead; for then the soul will be by itself apart from the body, but not before.  And while we live, we shall, I think, be nearest to knowledge when we avoid, so far as possible, intercourse and communion with the body, except what is absolutely necessary, and are not filled with its nature, but keep ourselves pure from it until God himself sets us free.  And in this way, freeing ourselves from the foolishness of the body and being pure, we shall, I think, be with the pure and shall know of ourselves all that is pure, — and that is, perhaps, the truth.  For it cannot be that the impure attain the pure.  Such words as these, I think, Simmias, all who are rightly lovers of knowledge [philosophers] must say to each other and such must be their thoughts.  Do you not agree?”  “Most assuredly, Socrates.”[15]

This idealist conception of knowledge and truth, one which is based upon the distinction between the Soul and the body, and of course upon the belief that in fact the soul exists, is not only characteristic of Plato’s philosophy throughout his works but in fact underpins it in almost all respects.  The notion of purification, and the idea that the body itself and its wants and needs are “impure”, is a notion which has parallels in the Orphic tradition and certainly in the Upanishadic philosophic tradition as well.  To Plato, the senses are looked upon as deceiving to a certain extent, or at the least to be relevant to only a lower form of knowledge, one which is fundamentally not the pursuit of the lover of wisdom, sophia, i.e. the philosopher.

What I mean is this:  Have the sight and hearing of men any truth in them, or is it true, as the poets are always telling us, that we neither hear nor see anything accurately?  And yet if these two physical senses are not accurate or exact, the rest are not likely to be, for they are inferior to these.  Do you not think so?”  “Certainly I do,” he replied.

“Then,” said he, “when does the soul attain to truth?  For when it tries to consider anything in company with the body, it is evidently deceived by it.”  “True.”  “In thought, then, if at all, something of the realities becomes clear to it?”  “Yes.”[16]

Plato goes on to describe in detail the process by which It is only through the use of pure reason (logos), in the realm beyond thought really – ideas and forms – as the only realm within which the highest knowledge can be attained, a realm which the Soul subsists in and of itself.

“But it thinks best when none of these things troubles it, neither hearing nor sight, nor pain nor any pleasure, but it is, so far as possible, alone by itself, and takes leave of the body, and avoiding, so far as it can, all association or contact with the body, reaches out toward the reality.”  “That is true.”  “In this matter also, then, the soul of the philosopher greatly despises the body and avoids it and strives to be alone by itself?”  “Evidently.”

“Now how about such things as this, Simmias?  Do we think there is such a thing as absolute justice, or not?”  “We certainly think there is.”  “And absolute beauty and goodness.”  “Of course.”  “Well, did you ever see anything of that kind with your eyes?”  “Certainly not,” said he.  “Or did you ever reach them with any of the bodily senses?  I am speaking of all such things, as size, health, strength, and in short the essence or underlying quality of everything.  Is their true nature contemplated by means of the body?  Is it not rather the case that he who prepares himself most carefully to understand the true essence of each thing that he examines would come nearest to the knowledge of it?”  “Certainly.”

“Would not that man do this most perfectly who approaches each thing, so far as possible, with the reason alone, not introducing sight into his reasoning nor dragging in any of the other senses along with his thinking, but who employs pure, absolute reason in his attempt to search out the pure, absolute essence of things, and who removes himself, so far as possible, from eyes and ears, and, in a word, from his whole body, because he feels that its companionship disturbs the soul and hinders it from attaining truth and wisdom?  Is not this the man, Simmias, if anyone, to attain to the knowledge of reality?”  “That is true as true can be, Socrates,” said Simmias.[17]

Here we see Plato describing the means by which this wisdom can be attained, if attainment is possible while one is “embodied”.  Withdrawing within oneself, taking leave of the body, avoiding any contact or association with the body as much as possible, “reaching out toward reality” as he puts it.  This process of what can perhaps best be described in this context of the “liberation” of the Soul from the body, or as Plato puts it a “reaching out toward the reality” smacks of mysticism and sounds a lot like pratyahara, withdrawal of senses, that is fundamental to Yoga.[18]

Plato further alludes to the specific human faculty by which the knowledge, again wisdom, in this case phronēsis which is a more practical variant of the more mystic sophia, can be obtained, i.e. through the use of pure reason, or logos.  We find Plato further illustrating this theory of knowledge, i.e. his epistemology, well beyond what we would consider that which is bound by pure reason or logic from a modern Western intellectual conception however.  Regardless, it most certainly sits above anything having to do with sense experience or any knowledge of the material world, in fact again this knowledge is supposed to be avoided by the true philosopher who wishes to attain wisdom, i.e. that which is deathless and therefore no fear of death itself.


A key part of Plato’s argument for the immortality of the Soul in Phaedo rests on, and starts with, an argument for the existence of life and death as different aspects of the same notion of concept which underlies the Soul – which he equates with life (animation, animus in the later Roman/Latin philosophical and theological tradition) – based upon what might be called the “doctrine of opposites”.  That is to say that each opposing process or force is not just defined by its opposite but that its essence stems from, originates from, its opposing process.  In other words, opposing processes are not just linked because they are “opposite” each other, i.e. representative of diametrically opposing processes, but in fact their existence depends upon the other and the existence of one is not just predicated, but in fact requires, the existence of the other.  The examples he gives are sleeping and waking, increasing and decreasing, cooling and heating, and of course ultimately living to dying which is the context within which he uses this premise to again argue for the logical existence of the existence of the immortal Soul.

For if generation did not proceed from opposite to opposite and back again, going round, as it were in a circle, but always went forward in a straight line without turning back or curving, then, you know, in the end all things would have the same form and be acted upon in the same way and stop being generated at all.”[19]

One finds this doctrine of opposites expressed by Heraclitus as well, a philosopher who is believed, at least according to Aristotle, to have greatly influenced Plato and certainly this argument in Phaedo seems to point squarely in that direction.  In the words of Heraclitus, “Living and dead are potentially the same thing, and so too waking and sleeping, and young and old; for the latter revert to the former, and the former in turn to the latter.”[20]

It is from a rational deduction based upon this argument of the mutually interdependent reliance of opposing forces and states of being that Plato draws, via a reductio ad absurdum argument more or less, that life and death are in fact rationally dependent upon each other for their respective existence as concepts or ideas, i.e. mutually dependent states of being that ultimately depend upon each other for their very existence.  He concludes therefore, that there must in fact precede some sort of life of the Soul before birth, and in turn some sort of life for the Soul after death.[21]

Once this is challenged, Plato (again through the voice of Socrates) goes on to argue for the primordial and absolute unchanging and eternal existence of ideas and forms as existing not just in and of themselves (a kind of a priori knowledge to use Kant’s terminology) but also as representative of the highest form of knowledge itself, theorizing that learning is a form of “recollection” as it were, a notion that can be found throughout Plato’s Early and Middle dialogues.

“Now if we had acquired that knowledge before we were born, and were born with it, we knew before we were born and at the moment of birth not only the equal and the greater and the less, but all such abstractions?  For our present argument is no more concerned with the equal than with absolute beauty and the absolute good and the just and the holy, and, in short, with all those things which we stamp with the seal of absolute in our dialectic process of questions and answers; so that we must necessarily have acquired knowledge of all these before our birth.”  “That is true.”

“And if after acquiring it we have not, in each case, forgotten it, we must always be born knowing these things, and must know them throughout our life; for to know is to have acquired knowledge and to have retained it without losing it, and the loss of knowledge is just what we mean when we speak of forgetting, is it not, Simmias?”[22]

The basic argument here is that in order for us to understand what “beauty”, or “goodness”, or “equality” is and what they mean, we must know it implicitly within the realm of knowledge and understanding where these ideas exist, i.e. we must “remember” them, recollect them, because the ideas themselves dwell in a realm beyond the physical or sensible world.  That is to say these ideas are a priori, eternal notions or concepts and the only way we can truly understand or comprehend them is via the use of a “rational” faculty, through an instrument as it were, i.e. the Soul, that rests and dwells in the same intelligible world where these notions are resident.  In other words, some element or part of us must be pre-existent to our birth in this material form, this body, in order for us to “remember” what these abstract constructs are and in order for us to “understand” what they truly mean or signify.  Like can only know like as it is sometimes expressed.

Plato’s theory of forms and his idea of knowledge or understanding, learning in fact, as recollection[23], goes hand in hand with his theory of forms.  These forms are described as the only unchanging, self-existent “things”, ideas that can be grasped by reason alone (logos).  These characteristics, in Plato’s view, make forms and ideas the most real of “things”, the truest of substances that have immanent and eternal existence, i.e. are not subject to change.

“Let us then,” said he, “turn to what we were discussing before. [78d] Is the absolute essence, which we in our dialectic process of question and answer call true being, always the same or is it liable to change? Absolute equality, absolute beauty, any absolute existence, true being—do they ever admit of any change whatsoever? Or does each absolute essence, since it is uniform and exists by itself, remain the same and never in any way admit of any change?”[24]

But this is not just an ethereal and abstract existence where these ideas dwell, but a real place as it were, a state of being, to which the mind, and Soul, of the philosopher is predisposed or attentive towards.

“But when the soul [79d] inquires alone by itself, it departs into the realm of the pure, the everlasting, the immortal and the changeless, and being akin to these it dwells always with them whenever it is by itself and is not hindered, and it has rest from its wanderings and remains always the same and unchanging with the changeless, since it is in communion therewith.  And this state of the soul is called wisdom.  Is it not so?”[25]

The changeless world of forms and ideas is not just the truest and realist of things, a much higher form of knowledge, truer form of knowledge given its unchanging and eternal nature, than the knowledge of the senses as governed by the body – the body being distinct from the Soul.  The argument is made here not just for the existence of forms and ideas, but their equivalence with the Soul, their equivalent realm so to speak and the existence of a state of being which Plato refers to as “wisdom”, phronēsis, or “practical wisdom”, which is the ultimate goal and pursuit, the absolute end really, of philosophical pursuit.[26]

As Socrates is prompted to explain further his reasoning as to why he has come to belief that the Soul lives beyond death and is in fact immortal, he narrates to his listeners upon the morning of his death the complete intellectual journey he went on to arrive at said conclusion, as to how he ended up concluding that the ineligible realm, the realm of ideas and forms, the realm guided by and explored through pure reason alone, represented the “most real” of phenomena, i.e. the highest form of knowledge.   He does so by describing his foray and exploration into the realm of natural philosophy, what we have come to call Physics (through Aristotle’s terminology as it has been handed down in the Western intellectual tradition) and his ultimate rejection of this domain as the final cause or purpose of that which he considers the basis for reality, or experience.  Even after being exposed to the philosophy of Anaxagoras, with whom the nature of Mind rested as the eternal principle which pervaded and formed the universe as we know it and experience it, Socrates could not conclude that anything pertaining to physical reality, any materialistic or empiricist framework, could facilitate or provide the true intellectual foundation for the “true cause” of the universe as know and experience it.[27]

As Socrates narrates this part of his argument in Phaedo, when he confronted this question about the “true” nature of existence, a question that could be formulates as something like: “what is the true cause and nature of the universe and the world as we know and understand it and what is it that underlies experience and makes it comprehensible and intelligible?”, the conclusion he came to was that the true cause and reason behind existence, the purpose or ultimate principles upon which existence itself rested, was in fact in the end the Forms and Ideas which existed behind and above the material physical world so to speak, and ultimately was the source of meaning and comprehension in any form to anything that we experience and anything that we would call “real”, or having existence in any way, shape or form.  In this sense Socrates, as Plato portrays him, is an idealist in the purest sense of the term, and represents the very same conclusion that Descartes comes to some two thousand years later as expressed in his famous dictum, “cogito ergo sum”.

To Plato then, and in all likelihood this doctrine is Plato’s rather than Socrates’s, it is in the intelligible realm of ideas where truth and meaning and the ultimate cause and purpose of universal existence, can ultimately be found.  As he expresses it, the only way anything comes into being is by “participating in its own proper essence”, Ideas and Forms define “being” in and of itself as it were.  To come to this conclusion, he must reject physical and material causation as the defining principles of reality and instead rests his metaphysics upon the reality of forms, as expressed in the Timaeus as intellectual constructs which ultimately originate from the Good or the Best which he views as the pinnacle of all universal intelligible principles upon which all forms and ideas rest, and which represents the governing principle behind existence itself, its ultimate cause as it were.  In the Phaedo, part of his argument for reaching this somewhat daring conclusion, the essence of his idealism, by likening the Soul to the realm of forms and the Good – like can only recognize and know like.

Toward the end of Phaedo, as his conclusions and arguments for the immortality of the Soul are challenged by the other interlocutors in the dialogue, Socrates argues that things that are of one principle or Form, one primal characteristic, cannot in fact at the same time consist of in any way its opposite principle or characteristic.  As cold can never be hot, as good can never be bad, life can never be death, appealing to the reasoning of a doctrine of opposing principles again but this time not principles of mutually interdependent and opposing processes, but the mutually exclusive nature of fundamental opposite “characteristics”, i.e. properties of a “thing”, “object” or “concept” in and of itself.

“Well, then, if one is added to one [101c] or if one is divided, you would avoid saying that the addition or the division is the cause of two?  You would exclaim loudly that you know no other way by which anything can come into existence than by participating in the proper essence of each thing in which it participates, and therefore you accept no other cause of the existence of two than participation in duality, and things which are to be two must participate in duality, and whatever is to be one must participate in unity, and you would pay no attention to the divisions and additions and other such subtleties, leaving those for wiser men to explain.[28]

In this way, something that is even can never be odd and something that is cold can never be hot, and therefore something that is alive – as the Soul is equated with, i.e. life itself – can never be dead.  So he uses reason and dialectic here again to argue his case for the immortality of the Soul, that it is life itself and therefore cannot be or akin to in any way, shape or form death and therefore can never in fact die.  That is to say that Soul is associated with and conceptually equivalent to life, and that it therefore cannot be associated with or have the property of its opposite characteristic, i.e. death, and therefore the Soul must be, by definition, eternally existence and forever “living” as it were.

Whether or not one agrees with the arguments and analogies that Plato uses to establish the reality of forms and the Immortality of the Soul in the Phaedo and the Republic, the method he uses to build his case as it were, his use of dialectic – discussion and dialogue rooted in reason and argument – to make his case, is innovative in and of itself and comes to represent in many respects the hallmark of the Hellenic philosophical tradition.  Furthermore, the idealism inherent in his theory of forms establishes the primary beachhead in the Western philosophical tradition upon which really all subsequent philosophical, and theological, intellectual development takes place.


Perhaps Plato’s greatest contribution to Western philosophy is the idealism embedded in his theory of forms, which in essence breaks down existence itself as not only a physical world of inanimate and animate objects, but a theory of knowledge and understanding which is based upon the notion that a) the understanding of a thing is predicated upon the existence of a true form, or idea of a thing without which the understanding, or even the thing itself, could not truly “exist:, and b) that such forms or ideas existed eternally as intellectual constructs upon which our understanding of the world around us was based.  It is from this premise and starting point that we must begin to try and grasp Plato’s perspective on not just reality and knowledge, but also ultimately his views on universal creation as well as his conception of the human Soul, all of which underpin not just his ethical philosophy but also his socio-political philosophy as reflected in the Republic and Laws most notably.

One of the primary themes that underlies all of Plato’s works, and can be especially seen in the Timaeus and Phaedo among other of his prominent works, is that the principles of reality or the known universe, and the very meaning of life and the pursuit of wisdom and understanding are not just worth exploring, but represent the very highest goal of life – the end of the philosopher.  His means of exploration, and perhaps the most defining characteristic of the Hellenic philosophical tradition which he so greatly influenced, is the role of reason and argument in the form of dialogue, logos and dialectic respectively, in ascertaining these universal truths, even if absolute truth or certainty is not completely possible given the limits of human understanding.  Whether or not he believed that absolute knowledge (sophia) was altogether possible or not is debatable and this is perhaps one of the great mysteries of Platonic philosophy as we try to understand it through the metaphors, analogies and arguments he presents and explores throughout his dialogues, the method and means of communication of these ideas and principles in fact lending itself to skepticism which was a hallmark of many of the philosophers which succeeded him at the Academy.

With respect to the nature of what can truly be known, from which any definition of reality can be drawn, Plato’s teachings as we understand them through his dialogues establish the first and foremost tradition of skepticism in Western – Indo-European really – thought.  This tradition, which starts with Socrates and clearly influenced Plato significantly, establishes the grounds of epistemology – the study of knowledge (epistêmê)– which is reflected in the philosophical tradition which Plato leaves behind at the Academy which he founded in Athens circa 387 BCE.  This tradition of skepticism” represented the core intellectual stream of thought emanating from the Academy subsequent to Plato which provided the basis for other currents of more materialistic and empiricist philosophical schools such as Stoicism and Epicureanism which has a much more broad definition of knowledge, each playing a strong role in the development of Hellenic philosophy in the classical Greco-Roman period.

Plato’s teachings were founded upon the principle, again believed to have been a legacy of Socrates himself, that there were significant intellectual limits upon that which could be truly known given that knowledge itself was predicated on the a priori existence of Forms or Ideas without which any understanding or comprehension of the physical world of matter comprehended by the senses is possible.  For Plato considered knowledge itself to be a type of “recollection”, which was part of his argument for the immortality of the Soul, which was the “form” of the body, one of the primary themes of the Phaedo, a dialogue which circulated in antiquity under the title of On the Soul.

Probably the most comprehensive literary expression of Plato’s notion of knowledge, the distinction he draws between the intelligible world (higher form of knowledge) and the visible world (lower form) comes from the Republic, expressed in what has come to be known as the analogy of the divided line.

“Conceive then,” said I, “as we were saying, that there are these two entities, and that one of them is sovereign over the intelligible order and region and the other over the world of the eye-ball, not to say the sky-ball, but let that pass.  You surely apprehend the two types, the visible and the intelligible.”  “I do.”

“Represent them then, as it were, by a line divided into two unequal sections and cut each section again in the same ratio (the section, that is, of the visible and that of the intelligible order), and then as an expression of the ratio of their comparative clearness and obscurity you will have, as one of the sections of the visible world, images.  By images I mean, first, shadows, and then reflections in water and on surfaces of dense, smooth and bright texture, and everything of that kind, if you apprehend.”  “I do.”  “As the second section assume that of which this is a likeness or an image, that is, the animals about us and all plants and the whole class of objects made by man.”  “I so assume it,” he said.  “Would you be willing to say,” said I, “that the division in respect of reality and truth or the opposite is expressed by the proportion: as is the opiniable to the knowable so is the likeness to that of which it is a likeness?”  “I certainly would.”

“Consider then again the way in which we are to make the division of the intelligible section.”  “In what way?”  “By the distinction that there is one section of it which the soul is compelled to investigate by treating as images the things imitated in the former division, and by means of assumptions from which it proceeds not up to a first principle but down to a conclusion, while there is another section in which it advances from its assumption to a beginning or principle that transcends assumption, and in which it makes no use of the images employed by the other section, relying on ideas only and progressing systematically through ideas.” [29]

Here we have Plato’s fundamental distinction drawn, in the analogy of a “divided line”, the world of the visible, that which can be perceived by the senses, and the world of intelligibles, i.e. thoughts and ideas divided into two unequal portions of a line, the intelligible portion being given greater emphasis and therefore greater (relative) size than its counterpart that represents the visible world.  Then each of these sections is divided again into two unequal portions of the same ration relative to each other, with the larger proportion of each subsection is sized based upon its relative clarity from an intellectual standpoint.

The smaller of the two segments of the visible portion of the line, i.e. the visible world, is made up of first images – shadows, reflections and the like – which are less “real”, more “obscure”, than the “things” which they represent in and of themselves, i.e. that which makes up the larger portion of the visible world part of the line because the “things” themselves are have more intellectual clarity or definition that the “images” or “shadows” of things.

Likewise, and analogously, the intelligible world is also divided into two unequal sections – of the same proportion.  The first of which, the smaller subsection, consists of the treatment of the images of things, and via various assumptions and conclusions various ideas or “theories”, abstract conclusions are drawn, i.e. “bottom up” or “deductive” reasoning of sorts.  The second section, the larger subsection of the intelligible world does not deal with things themselves, or even their images or representations but only deals with ideas in and of themselves and based upon pure intellectual reasoning – dialectic or logos – progresses from various assumptions or theses up to an ontological first principle or set of principles, i.e. bottom up logic or “inductive reasoning” of sorts.

Plato’s Epistemological worldview, i.e. the Analogy Divided Line [30]

Plato then goes on to use this analogy of the divided line as a representation, and relative worth or value, of four different types of knowledge, essentially using the divided line to describe his epistemological worldview.  Each section he describes as “affections of the Soul”, our perhaps better put, “capabilities” or “faculties” of the human mind.  The largest section of the line represents the clearest, the least obscure, and the closest depiction of Truth or Reality and is representative of conclusions drawn by use of pure reason (logos), the faculty of the mind which deals only with ideas in and of themselves and reaches conclusions from principles up to the greatest and highest principle, i.e. the Good (segment DE).

This type of knowledge is followed then by lesser knowledge which is arrived at by the faculty of understanding, which draws various conclusions based upon “thinking” about not just abstract ideas in and of themselves but also about things and images as well (segment CD).  So although this type of thinking, like geometry for example, still deals with the intelligible world and therefore is of higher value than the “visible” realm of perception, is nonetheless of lesser value than conclusions drawn via pure reason and using pure ideas because this type of knowledge does deal with objects, even if they are simply images or representations of physical objects or things.

These two types of thinking that are categorized in the world of intelligibles are then followed by lower forms of knowledge which deal directly with objects of the visible world, the higher of which Plato refers to as “belief”, or “opinion” which deals with objects of the senses that exist within the world of visible world itself, what one might call the material world or the domain of  physics (segment BC), and then the lowest form of knowledge which he describes as “conjecture” or “imagination” (segment AB) which deals with not things in and of themselves but their shapes or images and deals with the likeness of visible things.[31]

In this section of the Republic, which precedes his more graphic metaphor of his theory of forms as told in his Allegory of the Cave, albeit wrapped up in the middle of a socio-political work, does represent from a Western standpoint the one of the first prolific and well-articulated forays into the world of metaphysics, i.e. the exploration of the true nature of reality that underlies the world of the senses, and attempts to explain our place in this world and the illusory and shadowy nature of the objects of our perception independent of any religious or theological dogma.  It also illustrates the prevalence of geometry and mathematics as a one of the primary means to which this reality can be understood, a marked characteristic of not just the Platonic philosophical tradition, but the Western philosophical tradition as a whole.[32]


It is in the Timaeus however, one of the later and more mature works of Plato where he expounds upon his view on the nature of the divine, the source of the known universe (cosmological view), as well as the role of the Soul in nature.  And although Plato, and Socrates as represented by Plato’s earlier works, rejected the mythological and anthropomorphic theology that was prevalent in ancient Greece, Plato does not completely depart from the concept of a theological and divine or supra-natural creator of the known universe, at least as reflected in the words of Timaeus in the dialogue that bears his name.

In the Timaeus, Plato describes a “likely story” as to how the world was created, leveraging again reason (logos) and dialectic, and heavy use of analogy and metaphor, to describe the creation of the universe as a product of the intelligent design of a creator, his Demiurge.[33]  In many respects, the ideas and postulates of the Timaeus represent an expansion on Plato’s theory of forms which he introduces in Phaedo and the Republic but follows its intellectual development into the idea of the Good, and its role in the creation of the cosmos (kosmos), the material universe within which we live.  He starts again by drawing the distinction between the intelligible and sensible worlds, that which he calls Being and Becoming, two terms that have come to define Plato’s epistemology as well as his cosmogony.

Now first of all we must, in my judgment, make the following distinction.  What is that which is Existent always [28a] and has no Becoming?  And what is that which is Becoming always and never is Existent?  Now the one of these is apprehensible by thought with the aid of reasoning, since it is ever uniformly existent; whereas the other is an object of opinion with the aid of unreasoning sensation, since it becomes and perishes and is never really existent.[34]

Here again Plato makes a distinction between the physical, or visible, world which is subject to change, and the eternal and changeless world of intelligibles, the Intellect (Nous) which can only be apprehended by use of the mind and reason, i.e. is not perceivable by the senses directly and can be discerned in the realm of the mind or thought.  He draws the basic distinction between that which is subject to change, the “visible” or “material” world (Becoming), and that which is eternal and changeless (Being).  Knowledge of the former, which falls under the category of the natural sciences which is the main thrust and emphasis of Aristotle’s reality, or sphere of knowledge, is not rejected outright by Plato but is held subservient – due to its constant fluctuating and changing state – to the world of ideas and thought which is apprehended by intelligence (Nous) and reason (Logos) and which is changeless and eternal.

The realm of Becoming is always subjected to perishing at some level and therefore never truly “is”, or can be said to “exist” within the context of Plato’s epistemological and ontological framework.  It is conceived of by what he deems “opinion”, alluding to the fact that perception is subjective in nature and what one perceives or experiences is not necessarily the same experience or perception of someone else, or some other being for that matter.  It is perceived via the senses, i.e. not by reason.  Whereas the latter realm always “is”, Being, is changeless and eternal, and is conceived of, apprehended as it were, by reason, mind and intelligence alone.  It is not subject to change and therefore according to Plato it truly can be said to actually “be”, or can be said to “exist” within Plato’s epistemological framework, hence the term Being that he allots to it.

It is within this context of Plato’s distinction between the world of Being and Becoming, as he describes it in the Timaeus here, that the connection between Plato and Parmenides is drawn.  In many ancient philosophical circles, Heraclitus is said to be the mother of Plato’s teachings where Parmenides is said to be his father and it is his later works, and again specifically in the Timaeus, that we see this distinction along the lines of Being and Becoming clearly drawn, representing the most mature form of Plato’s’ intellectual conception of knowledge, i.e. what can be known, what philosophers call epistemology.

Parmenides (late 6th early 5th century BCE) is known for his one work, known by the title On Nature, written in hexameter verse which although does not survive in full, is believed to survive mostly in tact through quotations and excerpts of later philosophers and commentators, reflecting its significant influence on early Hellenic philosophical development.  Most certainly Parmenides is one of the most influential of the “Pre-Socratics”, and it is through the interpretation of his philosophy through Plato really, that this determination is made.  He is believed to have been born in Elea in Southern Italy and therefore is historically categorized as part of the “Italian” branch of early Hellenic philosophy – as per Diogenes Laertius, the same branch as Pythagoras who represents the first and earliest of this tradition and as distinguished from the Ionian branch within which Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, as well as the Cynics and Stoics, belong to.

In Parmenides’s poem, he describes a pseudo allegorical journey up into the gates of Heaven driven by a golden chariot where he is initiated into eternal wisdom, i.e. the mysteries as it were, by the goddess of wisdom herself represented by the goddess Night, the very same goddess who plays a critical role in the unfolding of the universe in the in the Orphic mythological tradition.  [In later classical Greek mythology, she is personified as Athena, the goddess of wisdom and the daughter of Zeus, and it is no doubt she who most represents the notion of wisdom (i.e. sophia) as Plato perceives and describes it, in particular its illuminary nature from an intellectual perspective.]

In the excerpts that are extant from his poem On Nature, Parmenides distinguishes in very esoteric and almost mystical – and certainly cryptic – language that which is said to “be” or exist (to eon), or “true reality” (alêtheia), which he associates with thought and language and is wholly distinguishable from that which cannot in fact be said to exist in the same way, i.e. that which is not “real” and is wholly distinct from true reality (again alêtheia), due to its fluctuating and ever changing nature.

The thing that can be thought and that for the sake of which the thought exists is the same; for you cannot find thought without something that is, as to which it is uttered.  And there is not, and never shall be, anything besides what is, since fate has chained it so as to be whole and immovable.  Wherefore all these things are but names which mortals have given, believing them to be true—coming into being and passing away, being and not being, change of place and alteration of bright color.  [R. P. 119].[35]

With Parmenides, as we know him again through the quotations and comments of philosophers from the classical Hellenic period and later, we find what is believed to be the source of Plato’s epistemology where, in Vedic terms, the world of “name and form” which is in a constant state of change and flux, which falls in the domain of what Plato terms “opinion”, is held to be an inferior form of knowledge than the realm of the changeless and eternally existent world of ideas thought, as discerned by pure reason (logos), i.e. “true reality” which Parmenides calls alêtheia  and which Plato refers to as Being, again distinguished from that which is Becoming.  This bifurcation and sublimation of the material world for the ethereal or rational world ultimately provides the basis for Plato’s theory of forms and is the basis upon which he builds not only his theory of knowledge but also his cosmogony as outlined in the Timaeus.

Furthermore, while Parmenides writes in hexameter verse, there is clearly a logical cohesion to his work, an argument or a case he is trying to make, to establish the grounds of being, in a classical philosophical sense, where he is attempting to justify and rationalize, and in turn provide the logical foundation for, his position of establishing that which “is” (to eon), or can be said to exist due to its eternal and unchanging nature which in turn again is distinguished from, and held to be of higher intellectual and philosophical value than, that which is subject to change and ultimate dissolution, i.e. the objective and material world.[36]

In this sense Parmenides work and philosophy that is represented therein is not only the forefather of Plato’s Being and Becoming as laid out in the Timaeus, but also the forefather of the means by which this distinction is established, i.e. by reason and argument which Plato presents in dialogue form using logic, or dialectic, which can be viewed as a more mature and evolved form of (written) communication of ideas and metaphysics than that which is used by Parmenides who follows in the footsteps of the earlier mythic poets Homer and Hesiod.


Transitioning back to Plato’s cosmogony and its relationship to the worlds of Being and Becoming respectively in the Timaeus, we find a description which is markedly anthropomorphic in conception and yet at the same time rests upon his basic metaphysical delineation of reality between Being and Becoming – i.e. that which is permanent, eternal and unchanging and comprehended by reason (logos) and thought or ideas (eidôs), versus the sensible realm which is subject to change and “opinion” and therefore is characterized by an implicit creative and destructive process.

Again, everything which becomes must of necessity become owing to some Cause; for without a cause it is impossible for anything to attain becoming.  But when the artificer of any object, in forming its shape and quality, keeps his gaze fixed on that which is uniform, using a model of this kind, that object, executed in this way, must of necessity [28b] be beautiful; but whenever he gazes at that which has come into existence and uses a created model, the object thus executed is not beautiful.

Now the whole Heaven, or Cosmos, or if there is any other name which it specially prefers, by that let us call it, —so, be its name what it may, we must first investigate concerning it that primary question which has to be investigated at the outset in every case, —namely, whether it has existed always, having no beginning of generation, or whether it has come into existence, having begun from some beginning. It has come into existence; for it is visible and tangible and possessed of a body; and all such things are sensible, [28c] and things sensible, being apprehensible by opinion with the aid of sensation, come into existence, as we saw, and are generated.

And that which has come into existence must necessarily, as we say, have come into existence by reason of some Cause.  Now to discover the Maker and Father of this Universe were a task indeed; and having discovered Him, to declare Him unto all men were a thing impossible.  However, let us return and inquire further concerning the Cosmos, —after which of the Models did its Architect construct it?[37]

Here we see not only the implicit anthropomorphic, or perhaps better put anthrocentric, view of universal creation, but also the fundamental assumption of causality which rests at the heart of what is perhaps best terms his “theological” cosmological conception.  In other words, implicit in the existence of the universe as we know and perceive it, in fact implicit in the existence in anything, is some element of causality even if in this context he intends to mean “purpose” or “reason”, rather than a physical chain of causality which is how we have come to identify the meaning in the modern era of empirical science.[38]

Furthermore, he argues that the universe must have been “created” – i.e. has some sort of beginning in time and space as it were – because it exists within the sensible realm, the realm that is in and of itself defined by change, is apprehended by “opinion”, is subjectively perceived and is therefore – again by definition – in a constant state of flux which is bound by an implicit and eternally present creative and destructive process of Becoming.

[29a] Was it after that which is self-identical and uniform, or after that which has come into existence; Now if so be that this Cosmos is beautiful and its Constructor good, it is plain that he fixed his gaze on the Eternal; but if otherwise (which is an impious supposition), his gaze was on that which has come into existence.  But it is clear to everyone that his gaze was on the Eternal; for the Cosmos is the fairest of all that has come into existence, and He the best of all the Causes.  So having in this wise come into existence, it has been constructed after the pattern of that which is apprehensible by reason and thought and is self-identical. [29b]

Again, if these premises be granted, it is wholly necessary that this Cosmos should be a Copy of something.  Now in regard to every matter it is most important to begin at the natural beginning.  Accordingly, in dealing with a copy and its model, we must affirm that the accounts given will themselves be akin to the diverse objects which they serve to explain; those which deal with what is abiding and firm and discernible by the aid of thought will be abiding and unshakable; and in so far as it is possible and fitting for statements to be irrefutable and invincible, [29c] they must in no wise fall short thereof; whereas the accounts of that which is copied after the likeness of that Model, and is itself a likeness, will be analogous thereto and possess likelihood; for I as Being is to Becoming, so is Truth to Belief.

Wherefore, Socrates, if in our treatment of a great host of matters regarding the Gods and the generation of the Universe we prove unable to give accounts that are always in all respects self-consistent and perfectly exact, be not thou surprised; rather we should be content if we can furnish accounts that are inferior to none in likelihood, remembering that both I who speak [29d] and you who judge are but human creatures, so that it becomes us to accept the likely account of these matters and forbear to search beyond it. [39]

In this passage, we find Plato, in the words of Timaeus in the dialogue, arguing that there must in fact exist a model upon which the cosmos (kosmos) is fashioned and that this model must be the “best” model, i.e. that which is eternal and changeless which he implies is the source of all things, i.e. the world of Becoming.  This model is based upon the Good, the form of forms, an eternal and changeless idea which can only be apprehended – if it can be apprehended at all – by reason and thought and from which the world of Becoming is generated, or brought about from.

He equates the world of Being here to “true reality”, what he refers to as “Truth”, and the world of Becoming to the domain of “opinion” or “subjective belief”, lining up these two metaphysical principles which presumably derive from Parmenides squarely with his theory of knowledge.  The former, the realm Being which is characterized by reason, thought and ideas, he considers to be the higher form of knowledge upon which the latter, the realm of Becoming which is forever changing and in a state of flux and is characterized by opinion and subjective belief, is molded from or shaped out of.

Plato then goes on, through the narrative of Timaeus in the dialogue, to describe in detail just how the divine craftsman, the Demiurge, establishes universal creation, what has come to be known as the “Cosmic Soul”, applying various rational, proportional, mathematical and geometrical (presumably of Pythagorean influence) constructs onto the primordial chaos out of which the four basic elements – earth, air, water and fire – as well as the heavens and earth and all living creatures therein came into existence.  But this world of Becoming, and the creative process which he outlines therein, attempting as best he can to provide a logical and rational account of creation in again what he refers to as a “likely” account, resting on and alluding to the limits of human knowledge in and of itself in understanding the reason and ultimate cause and process by which the universe comes into being, nonetheless presumes the universe to be crafted upon the model of the Good, a benign creator as it were that provides the foundation for the Judeo-Christian worldview.

[30a] For God desired that, so far as possible, all things should be good and nothing evil; wherefore, when He took over all that was visible, seeing that it was not in a state of rest but in a state of discordant and disorderly motion, He brought it into order out of disorder, deeming that the former state is in all ways better than the latter.  For Him who is most good it neither was nor is permissible to perform any action save what is most fair.  As He reflected, therefore, He perceived that of such creatures as are by nature visible, [30b] none that is irrational will be fairer, comparing wholes with wholes, than the rational; and further, that reason cannot possibly belong to any apart from Soul.  So because of this reflection He constructed reason within soul and soul within body as He fashioned the All, that so the work He was executing might be of its nature most fair and most good.

Thus, then, in accordance with the likely account, we must declare that this Cosmos has verily come into existence as a Living Creature endowed with soul and reason owing to the providence of God.   [30c] This being established, we must declare that which comes next in order.  In the semblance of which of the living Creatures did the Constructor of the cosmos construct it?  We shall not deign to accept any of those which belong by nature to the category of “parts”; for nothing that resembles the imperfect would ever become fair.  But we shall affirm that the Cosmos, more than aught else, resembles most closely that Living Creature of which all other living creatures, severally and generically, are portions.  For that Living Creature embraces and contains within itself all the intelligible Living Creatures, just as this Universe contains us and all the other visible living creatures [30d] that have been fashioned.  For since God desired to make it resemble most closely that intelligible Creature which is fairest of all and in all ways most perfect, He constructed it as a Living Creature, one and visible, containing within itself all the living creatures which are by nature akin to itself.[40]

We can see here that Plato sees the rational and ordered as of higher value than the chaotic and disordered, and he assigns the highest value to reason itself (again logos) which is attributed and ultimately equated with the divine or Cosmic Soul.  Furthermore, Plato perceives the universe, in very much the same vein as the Stoic tradition which was very influential in the Greco-Roman period and influenced early Christian theology (pneuma, the divine spirit), as a living, breathing entity which not only embodies, encapsulates as it were, all of the kosmos within it, but also is endowed with “Soul” and “reason”, just as the individual is at some extent.  God here, the Cosmic Soul, is fashioned in the image of man as it were as opposed to the other way around as it is presented in the Judeo-Christian account of creation.


At the heart of Plato’s philosophy was the belief in the ontological primacy of the rational faculty of man, reason, along with the tools of the trade which reflected and were to be leveraged by this faculty – namely reason (logos), dialectic, logic and mathematics – as the means by which the fundamental truths of these ancient mystic traditions could be known or brought to light.  He was the first to establish the connection between cosmogony, physics and ethics to a degree that had not be done before, a characteristic that became one of the primary characteristics of Hellenic and Roman philosophy and was even followed in the Scholastic tradition up until the end of the Middle Ages.

Plato also established a good deal of the semantic framework, in Greek, through which these esoteric, complex and interrelated topics could be discussed and explored, a development whose importance cannot be overstated.  For before Plato, the language of philosophy was shrouded in myth, analogy, and metaphor, and after Plato all of the Greek philosophical schools and practitioners now at east had a working vocabulary through which philosophic ideas and concepts could be further explored and elucidated upon, even if the various schools disagreed with each other on a variety of issues.

Plato’s unique contribution to theological development in antiquity then can be viewed as placing the rational faculty of man as the primarily tool through which any knowledge of the gods, or reality itself even, should be drawn.  His reach extended well beyond the theological domain however, extending into areas that are known today as Psychology, Ethics, Political Philosophy, and most importantly perhaps the goal of life itself.  Many of his lasting contributions to the philosophic, and later scientific, development in the West are not necessarily the conclusions that he drew or solutions he put forth, but the tools and institutions which he established for their pursuit.

It can be said definitively however that with Plato the supremacy of reason and rationality in the search for truth and meaning in life as well as the nature and origins of the universe is firmly established.  To Plato the epistemological supremacy of the intelligible realm, the world of Being, over the sensible realm, or the world of Becoming, is the predominant characteristic of his metaphysics.  The former of which is characterized by forms and ideas from which the material universe as we know it, and all living souls as well, are ultimately “fashioned” from, all modeled and stemming from the belief that the Creator, if indeed he can be said to exist, must have fashioned things according to what is most fair and most just, i.e. the Good or Best.



[1] He actually refers to mystics, those initiated in the mysteries, as true philosophers in Phaedo 69c-69d.

[2] Forms: eidôs in Greek which can be translated as “essence”, “type” or even “species” depending on the context but is typically translated as “form” in English and the related term he uses is ἰδέα or idea.

[3] Both the Phaedo and the Republic are believed to have been written by Plato dung his so-called Middle Period where he begins to create and establish the basic tenets of his own philosophy and the ontological supremacy of the reality of Forms and Ideas, from which his socio-political as well as ethical principles ultimately stem from and rest upon.

[4] Plato’s idealism” is distinguished from the more materialist schools of thought as reflected by Democritus, Aristotle and Epicurus among others who held that that which is perceived by the senses held ontological superiority to concepts of the mind (or Soul), i.e. ideas.

[5] Also sometimes referred to as the Analogy of the Cave, Plato’s Cave, or the Parable of the Cave.

[6] See Plato Republic Book 6, 514a-515a.-  From Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vols. 5 & 6 translated by Paul Shorey. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1969.  See

[7] See Plato Republic Book 6, 515b-515d.-  From Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vols. 5 & 6 translated by Paul Shorey. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1969.  See

[8] See Plato Republic Book 6, 515d-516b.  From Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vols. 5 & 6 translated by Paul Shorey. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1969.  See

[9] See Plato Republic Book 6, 516b-516c.  From Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vols. 5 & 6 translated by Paul Shorey. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1969.  See

[10] Public Domain, from Wikipedia contributors, ‘Allegory of the Cave’, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 2 November 2016, 10:40 UTC, <> [accessed 2 November 2016].

[11] There are enough details surrounding the account as to place at least some of it within the account of actual historical context, i.e. that some of the events and details described in the dialogue actually took place.  Plato himself says that he was not present that day as he was not feeling well, but there are details presented with respect to the wife of Socrates being present, the reason why that particular day was chosen as the day which he was to be put to death, as well as some details surrounding the poison itself that was administered to him that warrant at least some of the account as historically valid.

[12] Phaedrus, 62c.  From Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 1 translated by Harold North Fowler; Introduction by W.R.M. Lamb. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1966.

[13] Soul in Greek (Ψυχή), transliterated psychí or psuché, etymology is most likely from psyxō, “to breathe, blow” representing the life force that animates life that was considering akin to breathing, much like prāṇa, or breath, in the Vedic/Indo-Aryan philosophical and later Vedantic and Yogic Indian philosophical traditions.

[14] Phaedrus, 62c.  From Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 1 translated by Harold North Fowler; Introduction by W.R.M. Lamb. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1966.

[15] Phaedrus, 66e-67b.  From Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 1 translated by Harold North Fowler; Introduction by W.R.M. Lamb. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1966.

[16] Phaedrus, 62c-66a.  From Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 1 translated by Harold North Fowler; Introduction by W.R.M. Lamb. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1966.

[17] Phaedrus, 62c-66a.  From Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 1 translated by Harold North Fowler; Introduction by W.R.M. Lamb. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1966.

[18] The supposed author of the Yoga Sūtras believed to have been written and compiled in around 400 CE.

[19] Phaedrus, 72b.  From Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 1 translated by Harold North Fowler; Introduction by W.R.M. Lamb. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1966.

[20] Plato is believed to have studied under a student of Heraclitus, Cratylus, prior to studying with Socrates.  Quote from Plutarch Moralia; Consolation to Appollonius.  Loeb edition first published in 1928.  With Greek text and the English translation by F. C. Babbitt.  See*.html.  For Heraclitus philosophy of opposites see Graham, Daniel W., “Heraclitus”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.

[21] This notion of the opposing forces and their primordial existence and interdependence as metaphysical as well as naturalistic concepts is also one of, if not the, founding principle upon which the metaphysics of the Yìjīng is based.  See the chapter on Yìjīng metaphysics for details.

[22] Phaedrus, 75c-75d.  From Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 1 translated by Harold North Fowler; Introduction by W.R.M. Lamb. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1966.

[23] Plato’s theory of knowledge as recollection is sometimes referred to as anamnesis in philosophical literature.

[24] Phaedrus, 78c-78e.  From Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 1 translated by Harold North Fowler; Introduction by W.R.M. Lamb. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1966.

[25] Phaedrus, 79c-79d.  From Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 1 translated by Harold North Fowler; Introduction by W.R.M. Lamb. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1966.

[26] For a discussion of the meaning and import of phronēsis in classic Hellenic philosophy and its relationship to various Buddhist and Vedic counterparts, see The Shape of Ancient Thought by Thomas McEvilley, published in 2002 by Allworth Press in New York, pg. 609.

[27] The full explanation of his conception of how the universe came into being is the topic of the Timaeus, more on this below.

[28] Phaedrus, 79c-79d.  From Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 1 translated by Harold North Fowler; Introduction by W.R.M. Lamb. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1966.

[29] Plato Republic Book 6, 509d – 510b.  From Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vols. 5 & 6 translated by Paul Shorey. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1969.

[30] AC represents knowledge of the material or “visible” world and CE represents knowledge of the “intelligible” world.  Image From Wikipedia contributors, ‘Analogy of the divided line’, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 19 October 2016, 05:17 UTC, <> [accessed 19 October 2016].

[31] See Plato Republic Book 6, 510c-511e.-  From Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vols. 5 & 6 translated by Paul Shorey. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1969. and Wikipedia contributors, ‘Analogy of the divided line’, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 19 October 2016, 05:17 UTC, <> [accessed 19 October 2016].

[32] Taken one step further can be interpreted to mean that Plato is espousing a doctrine of the illusory nature of reality much like the Vedic tradition and its concept of Maya.  But buried within his allegory is also his dim and morbid view of the role of the philosopher himself, who is tasked with trying to shed light upon the true nature of reality to those steeped in ignorance.

[33] Plato’s Demiurge, the so-called “Divine Craftsman” that he describes in the Timaeus, becomes one of the cornerstone theological principles in the Hellenic theo-philosophical tradition and one which bleeds, and fits quite nicely, into the Judeo-Christian (and Islamic) anthropomorphic conception of God.  The English Demiurge comes from the Latin Demiurgus, which stems from the Greek Dêmiourgos (δημιουργός), which means “craftsman” or “artisan” but of course morphed into the more theological notion of Creator within the Hellenic theo-philosophical tradition itself.  See Wikipedia contributors, ‘Demiurge’, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 18 December 2016, 18:44 UTC, <> [accessed 18 December 2016].

[34] Plato Timaeus.  27a-28a.  Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 9 translated by W.R.M. Lamb. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1925.

[35] Early Greek Philosophy, translation with notes and commentary by John Burnet.  Chapter IV., Parmenides of Elea.  3rd editions (1920).  London.  From

[36] For a more detailed description of the philosophy of Parmenides and analysis of the existent fragments of his work On Nature, see “Parmenides of Elea: What Is Versus What is Not”, by Juan Valdez 2016 at and Parmenides entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy at

[37] Plato Timaeus.  28a-28c.  Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 9 translated by W.R.M. Lamb. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1925.

[38] It is in this context of Plato’s notion of Being and Becoming, and his fairly loose but at the same time all-pervading implicit assumption of causality or purpose, within which Aristotle establishes his metaphysical worldview which is based upon substantial form and  causality – the material, formal, efficient and final–  all of which looks to better define that which can be said to “exist”, his being qua being.  Aristotle’s efficient and final causes represent Plato’s notion of “reason” or “purpose” which underlies existence whereas Aristotle’s material and formal causes represent the underlying principles for the material or sensible world.  For more detail on Aristotle’s theory of causality and how it relates to his metaphysical worldview, see the chapter on Aristotle in this work and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on “Aristotle on Causality” which can be found here:

[39] Plato Timaeus.  29a-29d.  Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 9 translated by W.R.M. Lamb. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1925.

[40] Plato Timaeus.  30a-30d.  Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 9 translated by W.R.M. Lamb. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1925.

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