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 versions in 1992 and 1996.

Before that, we 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 from the page. I bought the book in graduate school. It was expensive for a graduate student in philosophy. Now, fortunately, it is freely 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 why he writes, but it is easy to get the impression that his use of the character Socrates in the Phaedo and Republic (which traditionally are middle dialogues) marks a new phase in his effort to understand the historical Socrates and his love of wisdom.

Socrates continues in his role as chief interlocutor in these dialogues, but he no longer just asks questions as he does in the traditionally early dialogues. Now he argues for views. In particular, he argues for the views that his commenators call

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

Textual Evidence for the Platonic Theories

The dialogues in which these theories appear are the Meno, Phaedo, and Republic. (The Meno is a transitional dialogue. It shares features with both the early and the middle dialogues.) These dialogues are difficult, and it is not feasible to read them in their entirety in the short time allotted in a semester class. Some of the more important passages are collected below.

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.

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

Socrates argues that the life of a just human being better than the life of an unjust human being. In the discussion, he introduces the Tripartite Theory of the Soul.

Sets of Selected Passages

The selection of passages that follow constitute the focus in this unit on Plato. 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, human beings have knowledge as a part of having reason. This knowledge is not acquired in experience. It is part of reason and so, given the ontological thesis, it is present in reason in the soul before the soul enters the body.

(Aristotle, later, in his effort to rid Platonism of what he takes to be its execeses, abandons the ontological thesis. Further, he thinks reason comes to exist in human beings as they mature.)

Socrates' Intellectual Autobiography
Plato portrays Socrates has having in his youth been interested in the inquiry into nature.

Theory of Forms
The Theory of Forms is the theory that the presence of things called "forms" (είδη) makes things the way they are, that these forms are the "reality" of these features of sensible things, and that the existence of these "realities" is different from the existence of the sensible things.

Tripartite Theory of the Soul
The Tripartite Theory of the Soul is a theory about desire in the human soul. According to the theory, the soul has three parts (reason, spirit, and appetite). In each, desire can arise and move a human being to act. In reason, desire is or stems from belief about what is good or bad. In appetite and spirit, it is not. How desire arises in these parts is not completely clearly, but the suggestion is that in appetite desire arises in response to the body and in spirit it arises in response to the perception of group behavior and instances of its violation.

Theory of Justice
The Theory of Justice is a theory about justice in a "city" (πόλος) and in a human being.

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