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, the historian had to rely on books. Here is the first page of the Phaedo (book four in the first tetralogy).

"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.

The yellow bottom left is spilt coffee I tried to wipe away. I bought the book in graduate school. It was expensive for a graduate student in philosophy. Now the texts are available for free online in the Perseus Digital Library.

A new edition of this tetralogy 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 as he does in the early dialogues. 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.

The textual evidence for these four Platonic theories is primarily from the Meno, Phaedo, and Republic. These dialogues are all traditionally thought to be middle dialogues.

Meno is visiting Athens from Thessaly. He asks Socrates how virtue is acquired. In the course of the conversation, Socrates introduces the Theory of Recollection. (Although the Meno shares features with both the early and the middle dialogues, it is traditionally a middle dialogue.)

The dialogue is set in Phlius. Echecrates asks Phaedo (who is apparently on his way home from Athens) about Socrates' last day. Phaedo retells the conversation Socrates had with his friends. In this conversation, Socrates introduces the Theory of Forms.

This dialogue is Plato's second longest. It is comprised of ten books. Socrates argues that justice pays and that the just are happier than the unjust. He introduces the Tripartite Theory of the Soul as part of his explanation of what justice is in the individual.

Sets of Selected Passages

The following sets of selected passages 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 passages difficult to appreciate. For this reason, it helps to read the lectures first.

Theory of Recollection
The Theory of Recollection is a theory about the soul and about reason. It consists in two theses: the ontological thesis and the epistemological thesis. According to the ontological thesis, the soul exists before it enters the body and continues to exist after leaving it. According to the epistemological thesis, some true beliefs belong essentially to reason.

The Ontological Thesis and the Theory of Forms
Socrates argues that "forms" (είδη) exist, that they are unchanging, that they are grasped in reason, and that the body is an obstacle to grasping them and thus to possessing wisdom.

Tripartite Theory of the Soul
The Tripartite Theory of the Soul is about desire. According to the theory, the soul has three parts: reason, spirit, and appetite. In each, desire can arise and lead to action. In reason, but not in appetite and spirit, desire stems from belief about what is good and what is bad.

Justice in the City and the Individual
The Theory of Justice is a theory of what justice is in a "city" (πόλις) and in a human being. In a city, justice is the organization of human beings that best achieves the purpose for which human beings come together to live in cities: to make their lives good. In an individual human being, justice is the appropriate organization of the three parts of the soul.

The Just Life is Better
Socrates argues that the just life is happier and more pleasurable than the unjust life.

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