Platonic Ethics Summary


(Critical Survey of Ethics and Literature)

The event that more than any other turned Plato from politics to philosophy was the trial and condemnation of his teacher, Socrates, in the year 399 b.c.e. In his Phaedo, written while he was still in his twenties and poignantly close to the memory of Socrates, Plato described Socrates as the best, most intelligent, and most moral man of his time. After that, Plato determined to take no active part in the radically democratic Athenian judicial or governmental system, which he came to define as the government of those least qualified by temperament and intelligence to rule.

Plato’s antidote to what he felt to be the rule of the mob was his concept of government by philosopher-kings, people prepared by lifelong education to be good rulers. In his most famous dialogue, Republic, he stated that “Unless philosophers become kings of states or else those who are now kings and rulers become real and adequate philosophers . . . there can be no respite from evil for states or, I believe, for the human race.”

This idea antedated by many years the appearance of Republic. According to Plato’s “Seventh Letter,” the search for a king whom he might train in philosophy led him in about 389 b.c.e. to Syracuse, Sicily. Having failed in this attempt to turn the Syracusan tyrant Dionysius I into a philosopher-king, Plato returned to Athens in 387 and in the latter 380’s founded his Academy, which J. E. Raven called “a...

(The entire section is 499 words.)