• Plato was born around the
year 428 BCE in Athens.
Plato's birth name was
Aristocles, and he gained
the nickname Platon,
meaning broad, because of
his broad build. His family
had a history in politics, and
Plato was destined to a life
in keeping with this history.
A Brief Biography
According to Aristotle, Plato developed the
foundations of his metaphysics and
epistemology by studying the doctrines of
Cratylus, and the work of Pythagoras and
Parmenides. When Plato met Socrates, however,
he had met his definitive teacher. As Socrates’s
disciple, Plato adopted his philosophy and style
of debate, and directed his studies toward the
question of virtue and the formation of a noble
Plato was in military service from 409
BC to 404 BC. When the
Peloponnesian War ended in 404 BC
he joined the Athenian oligarchy of
the Thirty Tyrants, one of whose
leaders was his uncle Charmides. The
violence of this group quickly
prompted Plato to leave it. In 403 BC,
when democracy was restored in
Athens, he had hopes of pursuing his
original goal of a political career.
Socrates’s execution in 399 BC had a
profound effect on Plato, and was
perhaps the final event that would
convince him to leave Athenian
After 399 BC Plato began to write extensively. The order in which he wrote his
major texts is also uncertain. However, most scholars agree to divide Plato's
major work into three distinct groups. The first of these is known as the
Socratic Dialogues because of how close he stays to Socrates’s teachings.
The period from 387 to 361 BC is often called Plato's "middle" or transitional
period. The major difference between these texts and his earlier works is that
he begins to establish his own voice in philosophy. Plato's most influential
work, The Republic, is also a part of his middle dialogues. It is a discussion of
the virtues of justice, courage, wisdom, and moderation, of the individual and
in society. It works with the central question of how to live a good life, asking
what an ideal State would be like, and what defines a just individual. The
dialogue finishes by reviewing various forms of government and describing the
ideal state, where only philosophers are fit to rule. The Republic covers almost
every aspect of Plato's thought. Book VII of The Republic is “The Allegory of
Plato founded a school of learning which he called the Academy.
Plato's school is often described at the first European university. Its
curriculum offered subjects including astronomy, biology,
mathematics, political theory, and philosophy. Plato hoped the
Academy would provide a place where thinkers could work toward
better government in the Grecian cities. He would preside over the
Academy until his death.
It was around 365 BC
this time that Plato's
famous pupil Aristotle
began to study at the
Academy. In 347 Plato
died, leaving the
Academy to his sister's
son Speusippus. The
Academy remained a
model for institutions of
higher learning until it
was closed, in 529 CE, by
the Emperor Justinian.
Allegory: a story in which the characters and
situations actually represent people and characters in
Dialogue: Asking questions that require simple
answers. Slowly, the questioning proceeds to elucidate
the answers to complex issues.
1. Describe how the people in the cave are
situated in Plato's parable. Why can't they
move their legs or necks to take a look around?
What is the only thing they are capable of
seeing? What is their only source of light?
2. What do these prisoners trapped in the cave
believe is real?
3. How does the prisoner react when he first sees
4. What are the stages of the liberated
prisoner's experience outside the
5. What is the response of the
prisoners to the news of the man
who has escaped about the world
6. Compare the perspective of the
freed prisoner with the cave
What is the
Glaucon? Are they
equal in intellectual
authority? Are the
concerned with the
How does the allegory
of the prisoners in the
shadows on a wall
relate to us today?
What shadows do we
see, and how do they
distort our sense of
what is real?
Are we prisoners in
the same sense that
If Plato is right that
the material world is
an illusion, how
would too great a
In paragraph 49, Plato
states that the virtue of
wisdom “contains a
divine element.” What is
a divine element? What
does this statement seem
to mean? Do you agree
does Plato make
between the public
and the private?
Would you make
What does Plato’s
allegory of the cave
tell us about how we
recognize the world?
According to the
allegory, how do cave
prisoners get free?
What does this suggest
What does the allegory
suggests about the
According to The Allegory of the
Cave, what is the main task of the
Who are the “guardians” or
Why should philosopher-kings
rule? Do you agree?
ESSAY #4: CLASS 19
TUESDAY NOVEMBER 26
You will respond to one of several prompts provided.
There will be prompts addressing each Plato and Woolf.
Your essay will be between 500 and 750 words. The
number of pages will depend on your handwriting!
You will have two hours to write.
Please bring a clean, large Blue Book:
(Approx. 8x10). You can buy them at the bookstore.
You may write with either a number 2 pencil (dark lead)
or blue or black pen.
Ways to Proceed
Come to class for the discussions
Participate in, listen to, and think about our class discussions
Read the two essays
Reread the two essays—make notes in the margins about your thoughts
Review the “Suggestions for Writing” sections at the end of each essay.
Buy your Blue Book
Bring an appropriate writing utensil
• Read A World of Ideas:
• Virginia Woolf "Shakespeare’s
Sister" (761-776) )
• Post #30 Questions (TBD) for
Critical Reading: (page 776)
• Post #31 QHQ Woolf