How was Plato significant in Western Civilization? How did his writings influence ethics and politics? Reference The Republic, The Symposium, and Socrates's dialogues.

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Western thought is indebted to Plato in many ways. It is known for certain that early Christian thinkers, like Augustine or Pseudo-Dionysus the Areopagite, read and commented on Plato. Augustine was a platonist himself before turning to Christianity, and he used his knowledge of Plato's doctrine to answer key questions...

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Western thought is indebted to Plato in many ways. It is known for certain that early Christian thinkers, like Augustine or Pseudo-Dionysus the Areopagite, read and commented on Plato. Augustine was a platonist himself before turning to Christianity, and he used his knowledge of Plato's doctrine to answer key questions about the essence of God. As for the Areopagite, his neo-platonic vision of Christianity strikes such a chord that Benedict XVI said in 2008 that his thought would be an interesting direction in which to renew Catholic faith. These are only examples of Plato's lasting influence in the realm of religion. I will briefly discuss another, less recognized major influence of Plato on Western Civilization.

There is something like an uninterrupted line that could be traced from Plato to modern philosophers like Leo Strauss and Alain Badiou. This line is called "idealism" and links Plato to Plotinus, Boetius, Thomas Aquinas, Ficino, Berkeley, Hegel, Husserl, Bergson, and Weil. It is one of the two major movements in Western philosophy, the second being "materialism." As such, Plato's philosophy is recognizable in almost the entire history of philosophy since the fifth century BCE.

Plato's thought appealed to poets and novelists and was used and transformed in the realm of literature as well, especially the doctrine of philosophical love in The Symposium (or The Banquet), the flight of the Soul in Phaedrus, and the theory of inspiration The Ion. We can trace this influence during the Renaissance in Dante's revelation of Love as a vehicle toward moral perfection or in Sir Philip Sydney's Defense of Poesy. The Romantics showed interest in Platonism as well, especially Shelley, who translated The Symposium and The Ion and developed his own platonic theory of poetry ("A Defense of Poetry") and love ("On Love"). However, one of the most striking examples is to be found in Donne's "The Ecstasy":

So must pure lovers' souls descend
T' affections, and to faculties,
Which sense may reach and apprehend,
Else a great prince in prison lies.

Ezra Pound once said about this poem that it was "Platonism believed." Indeed, Donne reflects here on the soul's special faculties of understanding that are revealed through Love as Diotima explains it in The Symposium. He also might refer to book 7 of The Republic when writing that without this illumination, one remains deluded and imprisoned like the poor beings in Plato's cavern.

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The 20th century English philosopher Alfred North Whitehead famously said that the European philosophical tradition consisted of a series of footnotes to Plato. Even allowing for the somewhat hyperbolic nature of this statement, one can see it as a confirmation of the enormous and enduring influence that Plato has had on Western thought in the thousands of years since his death.

The constraints of time and space prevent us from detailing every facet of Plato's enormous contribution to Western thought. But one aspect that one might like to consider is his emphasis on reason as a means of achieving truth. Plato was arguably the first thinker to construct a coherent philosophical system on rational principles. It is this way of thinking which established the foundations for systematic scientific thought.

At the same time, Plato was sufficiently modest to revise some of his most important ideas, such as his theory of the Forms. This gives his thought a kind of open-ended quality, constantly developing as reason opens up new vistas. Once again, the parallels with modern science are hard to ignore. For science, like the philosophy of Plato, is in a constant state of development, providing only provisional answers to some of life's biggest questions instead of proceeding dogmatically and coming up with final answers that can never be challenged.

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Plato was highly influential in the development of the United States constitution and government. The formation and philosophy of the United States was also an important development in the history of Western Civilization, so you can see how important Plato is.
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...and to follow up #8, Aristotle certainly held prominence in Western Civilization for two millennia, not only laying down what would be incorporated into Church doctrine, but establishing views of the physical world pertaining to physics and medicine.  Perhaps Plato's greatest legacy was Aristotelian Logic!

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Someone once said that the whole history of western philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato.  In other words, Plato made so many important arguments that many later philosophers have spent their careers trying either to explain, support, refute, and/or elaborate upon some of Plato's ideas. His own student, Aristotle, often disagreed with his teacher, but it is clear that Plato stimulated the thinking of Aristotle and of just about every later philosopher who has ever read Plato.

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Plato's most enduring influence has been in religion. His notion of the separation of the ideal world from the physical world has been influential to Judaism, Islam and Christianity, where St. Augustine popularized his thinking. As a political philosopher, he was among the first to describe the degeneration from an ideal state that would occur without virtue- a theme that has resonated throughout western thought, including, as historians have shown, the Anglo-American political tradition. His epistemology has not been all that influential since the scientific revolution, and particularly since John Locke's treatise Essay on Human Understanding.

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Plato is often called the father of Western philosophy, and certainly his philosophical ideals have done much to shape Western philosophical thought and how we approach the world. In particular, an analogy that is rightfully very famous is Plato's description of a cave where the inhabitants have a skewed perception of reality. This led to it being used as an allusion in Jose Saramago's novel The Cave which argues that a similarly skewed perception of reality characterises our lives today.

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Politically, Plato believed in the idea of the "philosopher king."  He thought that some people were simply more capable than others and that those who were more capable should be given the ability to lead.  He thought that this would be the best form of government.  I don't think that we can really say that he had much of an effect on Western political thought.  He is certainly no democrat and not in favor of personal and political rights.

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Plato is one of the most important figures in western civilization. There are so many ways this can be seen. Let me give you one important way. Early Christianity was greatly influenced by Platonism and this shows in the Western spirituality. For example, there is a not really an emphasis on the value of the body. At times this lead to odd practices, such as asceticism. This is all from Plato who believed the body was a prison house of the soul. This particularly noteworthy in view of the New Testament's emphasis on the goodness of the bodily resurrection.

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