Best known for: Greek philosopher who helped form the foundation of Western philosophy and founded the Academy in Athens.
Growing Up in Athens
Plato grew up in the Greek city-state of Athens during the Classical Period of Ancient Greece. Although historians don't know a lot about Plato's early life they know he came from a wealthy family and likely had two brothers and a sister. He would have been taught by the best Greek teachers about various subjects including music, gymnastics, math, grammar, and philosophy.
The Peloponnesian War
Much of Plato's youth would have been influenced by the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta. It is likely that Plato served in the Athenian army during his early life. The war no doubt influenced his life and his philosophy.
As Plato grew older he became more interested in academics and philosophy. He became a student and close follower to the famous philosopher Socrates. Socrates would hold conversations with his students about various aspects of politics and life. They then would break down the problem and come up with theories on the subject. Socrates teachings and learning style became the cornerstone of Plato's writings.
Travel and Study
In 399 BC, Socrates was executed by the leaders of Athens for corrupting the youth and for not acknowledging the gods of Athens. Plato left Athens and traveled around the Mediterranean region for the next twelve years. During that time, he visited places like Italy, Egypt, and North Africa. He studied all sorts of subjects including science, math, and philosophy.
While Plato was traveling around the Mediterranean, he began to write. He wrote in an interesting style called a "dialogue". In the dialogue, Plato would introduce several characters who would discuss a topic by asking questions of each other. This form allowed Plato to explore several sides of an argument and to introduce new ideas.
Many of Plato's dialogues feature his former teacher Socrates as the main character. Most of what is known about Socrates' philosophies comes from Plato's dialogues. He wrote four dialogues about Socrates' final days including The Apology in which Socrates' defends himself before being sentenced to death.
Plato's most famous writing is The Republic. In The Republic, several characters discuss the meaning of justice and how it relates to happiness. Socrates is once again the main character in the dialogues and he discusses how being just or unjust can affect someone's life. They discuss various aspects of government and finally present the "philosopher-king" as the ideal ruler. Plato comes to the conclusion that philosophers must become kings, or kings must become philosophers.
Founding the Academy
When Plato was around 40 years old, he returned to Athens and founded a school called the Academy. Plato and other scholars taught subjects such as mathematics, philosophy, biology, and astronomy at the Academy. One of Plato's students was the famous scientist and philosopher Aristotle who studied at the Academy for nearly 20 years.
Death and Legacy
Plato died around the year 347 BC in Athens. Not much is known about this death, but he was 80 years old and likely died in his sleep. Plato's legacy lives on in modern Western philosophy. His writings have been studied for the last 2000 years and are still studied in universities today.
Interesting Facts About Plato
Plato's real name may have been Aristocles after his father. Plato might have been a nickname that meant "broad" or "wide."
He was related to the famous lawmaker and poet Solon through his mother.
After Athens lost the Peloponnesian War to Sparta, Plato was offered to be one of the "Thirty Tyrants" that ruled over Athens, but he declined.
Plato was also heavily influenced by the mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras.