c. 423 – 348 BC

Roman copy of a portrait bust of Plato by Silanion for the Academia in AthensThe Athenian philosopher, Plato (c. 423–348 BC), student to Socrates and teacher to Aristotle, left a legacy that stretches through the entire history of Western thought. With justice, beauty and equality being the main philosophized forms he wrote and taught about, Plato also paved the way for modern universities with the establishment of his Academy in Athens, which was known for its mathematic and scientific pursuits. His academy was sustained for three centuries after his death, until it was finally dismantled by Roman Emperor Justinian I, as it posed a threat to Christianity.

Finding that live debates offered more wisdom than written works due to their fluidity, Plato was still a literary artist when it came to capturing his dialogues in writing. Some of the deep questions asked and explored are: Can virtue be taught or is wisdom gained through recollection (Menos)? What are the parallels between the soul of a nation and the soul of an individual and how can we build a better government ruled by reasoning philosopher-kings (The Republic)?

Similar to his teacher, Socrates, Plato taught that the realm of ideas was more truthful and therefore superior to the deceptive world of the senses (Theory of Forms). Plato gave us an account of Socrates’ defense at his trial, which is one of the most important works of Western philosophy. Modern democracy has his ideas on human equality to thank, and scientific progress his adherence to mathematics as a basis for understanding the universe.