Plato (427-347 B.C.)…Continuing Series on
Human Intelligence published July 2005 in the Riverside Review

Plato lived in Greece and is considered the father of western philosophy. His teachings greatly changed the way people looked at themselves and the world around them. Due to Plato’s influence the ancient Greeks began to think of such things as temperance, justice, and government. The idea of the human body possessing an immortal soul began with Plato and was further developed 400 years later by early Christian writings. But first let us look at the man.
His Greek name, Plato, was a nickname meaning
broad-shouldered. His real name was Aristocles. He belonged to an aristocratic family and at an early age he studied under Socrates. The unjust execution of his teacher, Socrates, embittered him, so he left Athens to travel and study in Italy, Sicily, and Egypt. In 397 b.c. he opened a school called the Academy, because it was located in the Grove of Academus. The Academy soon became the intellectual center of Greece and the first university in the history of Europe. Plato taught there for over 40 years.
Plato never allowed his Academy lectures to be written down. He believed that readers outside the Academy might misunderstand his doctrines and would not be adequately prepared to grasp their meaning. He also felt that the written words could not answer questions or defend themselves against misconceptions, as a living teacher could. But Plato did express his philosophic thinking in a number of written dialogues, conversations between two or more characters debating issues. His earliest dialogues utilized Socrates as the main character who questions others on their beliefs and ideas. As a dualist, Plato regarded the body and soul as separate entities. He posited an “unreal” world of the senses and physical processes, and a “real” world of ideal forms. One of Plato’s arguments was that man must penetrate beyond the material world grasped by his senses, and discover the understandable world of ideas and forms.
Plato’s philosophy was based on his theory of a soul divided into three components, reason, will and appetite (i.e., a desire for personal gratification). He contended that one can identify the parts of the soul because they sometimes clash with each other. A person may crave or have an appetite for something, yet resist that craving with willpower. A correctly operating soul requires the highest part, reason, to control the lowest part, appetite, with assistance from the will.
Plato believed that though the body dies and disintegrates, the soul continues to live forever. After the death of the body, the soul migrates to what Plato called the
realm of the pure forms. (“Forms” is Greek for the ideas of things.) There, it exists without a body, contemplating the forms or ideas. After a time, the soul is reincarnated in another body and returns to the world. But the reincarnated soul retains a dim recollection of the realm of forms and yearns for it…In the Meno, Plato has Socrates teach an ignorant slave boy a truth of geometry by simply asking a series of questions. Because the boy learns this truth without being given any information, Plato concludes that learning consists of recalling what the soul experienced in the realm of the forms.


The word philosophy comes from two Greek words, philo and sophia, which together mean love of wisdom. Philosophy has two important aims. First, it tries to give a person a unified view of the universe in which he lives and second, it seeks to make a person a more critical thinker by sharpening his ability to think clearly and precisely. For example, a Stoic tries to remain master of his emotions. An Epicurean seeks happiness through pleasure. A Christian strives for salvation through the grace and teachings of Jesus Christ.