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  Plato

  Plato (428-347 bc), Greek philosopher, one of the most creative and influential thinkers in Western philosophy. He was born to an aristocratic family in Athens. His father, Ariston, was believed to have descended from the early kings of Athens. Perictione, his mother, was distantly related to the 6th-century bc lawmaker Solon. When Plato was a child, his father died, and his mother married Pyrilampes, who was an associate of the statesman Pericles.

  As a young man Plato had political ambitions, but he became disillusioned by the political leadership in Athens. He eventually became a disciple of Socrates, accepting his basic philosophy and dialectical style of debate: the pursuit of truth through questions, answers, and additional questions. Plato witnessed the death of Socrates at the hands of the Athenian democracy in 399 bc.

  Perhaps fearing for his own safety, he left Athens temporarily and traveled to Italy, Sicily, and Egypt.

  In 387 Plato founded the Academy in Athens, the institution often described as the first European university. It provided a comprehensive curriculum, including such subjects as astronomy, biology, mathematics, political theory, and philosophy. Aristotle was the Academy’s most prominent student.

  Plato’s theory of Forms and his theory of knowledge are so interrelated that they must be discussed together. Influenced by Socrates, Plato was convinced that knowledge is attainable. He was also convinced of two essential characteristics of knowledge.

  First, knowledge must be certain and infallible.

  Second, knowledge must have as its object that which is genuinely real as contrasted with that which is an appearance only.

  Because that which is fully real must, for Plato, be fixed, permanent, and unchanging, he identified the real with the ideal realm of being as opposed to the physical world of becoming.

  One consequence of this view was Plato’s rejection of empiricism, the claim that knowledge is derived from sense experience.

  He thought that propositions derived from sense experience have, at most, a degree of probability.

  They are not certain. Furthermore, the objects of sense experience are changeable phenomena of the physical world. Hence, objects of sense experience are not proper objects of knowledge.

  Key words: Greek philosopher great tutor

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