Plato (~428 BCE—348 BCE) is commonly considered to be one of the most influential writers in the history of philosophy.

Along with his teacher, Socrates, and student, Aristotle, Plato is among the most famous names in Western philosophy – and for good reason. He is one of the only ancient philosophers whose entire body of work has passed through history in-tact over the last 2,400 years, which has influenced an incredibly wide array of fields including ethics, epistemology, politics and mathematics. 

Plato was a citizen of Athens with high status, born to an influential, aristocratic family. This led him to be well-educated in several fields – though he was also a wrestler! 

Influences and writing

Plato was hugely influenced by his teacher, Socrates. Luckily, too, because a large portion of what we know about Socrates comes from Plato’s writings. In fact, Plato dedicated an entire text, The Apology of Socrates, to giving a defense of Socrates during his trial and execution.  

The vast majority of Plato’s work is written in the form of a dialogue – a running exchange between a few (often just two) people.  

Socrates is frequently the main speaker in these dialogues, where he uses consistent questioning to tease out thoughts, reasons and lessons from his “interlocutors”. You might have heard this referred to as the “Socratic method”.  

This method of dialogue where one person develops a conversation with another through questioning is also referred to as dialectical. This sort of dialogue is supposed to be a way to criticise someone’s reasoning by forcing them to reflect on their assumptions or implicit arguments. It’s also argued to be a method of intuition and sometimes simply to cause puzzlement in the reader because it’s unclear whether some questions are asked with a sense of irony. 

Plato’s revolutionary ideas span many fields. In epistemology, he contrasts knowledge (episteme) with opinion (doxa). Interestingly, he says that knowledge is a matter of recollection rather than discovery. He is also said to be the first person to suggest a definition of knowledge as “justified true belief”.  

Plato was also very vocal about politics, though many of his thoughts are difficult to attribute to him given the third person dialogue form of his writings. Regardless, he seems to have had very impactful perspectives on the importance of philosophy in politics: 

“Until philosophers rule as kings or those who are now called kings and leading men genuinely and adequately philosophize, that is, until political power and philosophy entirely coincide, while the many natures who at present pursue either one exclusively are forcibly prevented from doing so, cities will have no rest from evils, … nor, I think, will the human race.” 


You might have also heard of The Allegory of the Cave. Plato reflected on the idea that most people aren’t interested in lengthy philosophical discourse and are more drawn to storytelling. The Allegory of the Cave is one of several stories that Plato created with the intent to impart moral or political questions or lessons to the reader.  

The Ring of Gyges is another story of Plato’s that revolves around a ring with the ability to make the wearer invisible. A character in the Republic proposes this idea and uses it to discuss the ethical consequences of the item – namely, whether the wearer would be happy to commit injustices with the anonymity of the ring.  

This kind of ethical dilemma mirrors contemporary debates about superpowers or anonymity on the internet. If we aren’t able to be held accountable, and we know it, how is that likely to change our feelings about right and wrong? 

The Academy

The Academy was the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. It was founded by Plato some time after he turned 30, after inheriting the property. It was free and open to the public, at least during Plato’s time, and study there consisted of conversations and problems posed by Plato and other senior members, as well as the occasional lecture. The Academy is famously where Aristotle was educated.  

After Plato’s death, the Academy continued to be led by various philosophers until it was destroyed in 86 BC during the First Mithridatic War. However, Platonism (the philosophy of Plato) continued to be taught and revived in various ways and has had a lasting impact on many areas of life continuing today.