Plato was born into a wealthy
Athenian family around 429 BC.
So, he grew up during the
Peloponnesian War (431 – 404 BC).
Around the age of 20, Plato joined the circle of Socrates.
Socrates did not conduct his philosophical inquiries through writing... ... but through engaging in dialogues with prominent
Athenians, often in public places. We can imagine Plato watching on and sometimes participating in these conversations.
In 404, when Athens was finally forced to surrender, a Spartan sponsored tyranny, known as the Rule of Thirty, was installed in Athens.
The tyranny was extremely vicious and lasted less than a year. Plato’s uncle and cousin were key players in the Rule of Thirty.
It may have been his family’s involvement in this unhappy period that led Plato to finally shun politics and pursue the philosophical life.
In 399, Socrates was tried and sentenced to death (by drinking hemlock) for impiety and for corrupting the youth.
After this, Plato spent around a decade travelling the Mediterranean.
Around 388 BC, Plato returned to
Athens and established a school called the Academy.
Plato wrote 20 books before his death in 347.
Almost all his books take the form of dialogues led by
Socrates (who, remember, did not write anything himself).
To what extent Plato is faithfully representing Socrates...
... and to what extent he is using
Socrates as a character through which he advances his own views, ... is difficult to discern and a matter of debate.
It is believed to vary from book to book and over periods of
Plato’s Republic was written about 375 BC.
The title is a poor Latin translation (res publica > things
+ public = public affairs) of the
Greek word politaea which meant ‘ideal state’ (Phelan: