The following quotes are profound, important and representative of Plato’s philosophy as a whole. However, before we examine these quotes, let’s take a look at who Plato was and what his philosophy amounts to.
Who Was Plato?
Plato (428/427 BC or 424/424 – 348/347BC) was born and died in Ancient Greece. He is one of the most famous and influential philosophers in the western world, and is, along with Socrates, responsible for building the foundations of philosophy as we know it today.
His works are vast, entertaining, interesting but also very complex in some parts. Yet, they are profoundly important and relevant to us still because of the core aim in all of his writings: how to reach a state of eudaimonia or the good life.
This means reaching a state of or attaining fulfilment. He concerned much of his life to helping us to achieve this. This idea is representative of what philosophy has been over the last two millennia and still is now: a means to help us live well.
The form that his writings take is significant and interesting and makes his ideas and teachings much more vivid and engaging. But what form of writing is this?
All of his works are dialogues and are always set out as a conversation between characters. Most of the time, we see Socrates having a conversation with counterparts as they discuss all manner of things.
These dialogues cover many subjects such as politics, love, courage, wisdom, rhetoric, reality and much more. However, they are all concerning themselves with the same thing: working towards an understanding of the good.
Plato was a follower of Socrates, and much of Plato’s own thoughts are probably expressed through the character of Socrates in his dialogues.
The conversations are a demonstration of elenchus or The Socratic Method, whereby Socrates elicits the truth through a series of questions and answers with the other characters in the dialogue. These conversations can also be entertaining; as well as discussing deeply important and relevant issues about life and society.
Yet, if you don’t want to read whole dialogues, there are certain quotes by Plato that shed light on his main ideas. Moreover, they can prove to be important and helpful when analysing and questioning our own lives.
8 important and interesting quotes by Plato that are helpful and relevant to us today
Plato’s dialogues eloquently provide us with theories and ideas about ultimately how to improve society and ourselves so we can become fulfilled beings. They demonstrate the need for reason and analysis in our lives; only then can we truly reach the good life.
These dialogues showcase this clearly as a whole, however, there are certain quotes that give succinct insight into Plato’s ideas.
You can still take something of great value and worth from these quotes, even if you don’t read the dialogues. Here are 8 important and interesting quotes by Plato that we can learn from today:
“There will be no end to the troubles of states, or of humanity itself, till philosophers become kings in this world, or till those we now call kings and rulers really and truly become philosophers, and political power and philosophy thus come into the same hands.” – The Republic
The Republic is one of Plato’s most popular and widely taught dialogues. It discusses topics such as justice and the city-state. It heavily comments on aspects of politics within ancient Athens.
Plato is deeply critical of democracy and offers a theory of a governing body of a city-state that would be best suited to achieving the good.
Plato says that ‘philosopher kings’ should be the leaders of society. If philosophers were our leaders, then society would be just and everyone would be better off for it. This is alluding to a society where democracy isn’t the political structure of our communities.
However, the idea can be transferred to our society. If our political leaders were also philosophers, then we would have strong guidance on how to attain fulfilment in our lives (or so Plato thinks).
Plato wants a unification of philosophy and politics at the helm of political power and our governing bodies. If our leaders were those who spend their life guiding us on how to live a good life, then maybe our society and our lives would improve.
“The inexperienced in wisdom and virtue, ever occupied with feasting and such, are carried downward, and there, as is fitting, they wander their whole life long, neither ever looking upward to the truth above them nor rising toward it, nor tasting pure and lasting pleasures.” – The Republic
Those who don’t make an effort to learn and become wise can never achieve fulfilment or realise how to live a good life. This refers to Plato’s Theory of Forms, whereby true knowledge is in the unintelligible realm.
We must learn and educate ourselves in the material world in order to gain an understanding of these forms, and then we can attain true knowledge of the good.
This theory is complex, so we do not need to dwell on it much now. However, the ideas are transferable to our own lives.
We cannot hope to progress and move forward in our lives, mend our troubles and anxieties if we do not make a personal effort to do so.
We must learn, seek advice and strive to be virtuous if we are to live a fulfilled life and minimise the suffering that we encounter.
“On the other hand, if I say that it is the greatest good for a man to discuss virtue every day and those other things about which you hear me conversing and testing myself and others, for the unexamined life is not worth living for men, you will believe me even less.” – The Apology
The Apology is an account of Socrates’ defence when he was facing trial in Ancient Athens. Socrates was accused of impiety and corrupting the youth, and this dialogue allegedly recounts his own legal defence.
The famous line: “the unexamined life is not worth living” is attributed to Socrates. Indeed, it does reflect much of what Socrates appeared to believe when practising his philosophy. But we only learn of Socrates through Plato’s dialogues so we can say it reflects Plato’s philosophical thought as well.
We must examine and analyse the different aspects of our lives in order to work towards fulfilment. It is not worth living an unexamined life because you will not recognise how to change or improve your life for the better. An unexamined life can never reach a state of eudaimonia.
“Nor must one, when wronged, inflict wrong in return, as the majority believe, since one must never do wrong” – Crito
Socrates was sentenced to death after his trial, despite his defence. Crito is a dialogue where Socrates’ friend, Crito, offers to help Socrates escape from prison. The dialogue focuses on the subject of justice.
Crito believes that Socrates has been unjustly sentenced, but Socrates points out that escaping from prison would also be unjust.
When we are wronged, performing a wrong or immoral act will not resolve the matter, even though it may provide us with some fleeting satisfaction. There will inevitably be repercussions.
Plato echoes the popular idiom “two wrongs don’t make a right”. We must be reasonable and prudent in the face of injustice, and not act on impulse.
“For consider what good you will do yourself or your friends by breaking our agreements and committing such as wrong. It is pretty obvious that your friends will themselves be in danger of exile, disfranchisement, and loss of property.” Crito
The decisions we make can have an effect and repercussions on those around us. We must be wary of this.
We may feel we have been wronged, but we should be rational and restrained in these situations. Only then can you sensibly work past events that have caused you suffering, or else you may make matters worse.
“Rhetoric, it seems, is a producer of persuasion for belief, not for instruction in the matter of right and wrong … And so the rhetorician’s business is not to instruct a law court or a public meeting in matters of right and wrong, but only to make them believe.” Gorgias
Gorgias is dialogue that tells of a conversation between Socrates and a group of sophists. They discuss rhetoric and oratory and attempt to give definitions of what they are.
This extract says that a rhetorician (for example, a politician) or a public speaker is more concerned with persuading the audience than with what is actually true. We should use this as reference and guidance when listening to the rhetoricians of our own times.
Plato wants us to be careful of the information that we are being fed. Make an effort to educate yourself and come to your own conclusions rather than being consumed by entertaining and attractive speeches.
This feels achingly relevant considering current and recent political phenomena.
“I tell you that whoever is led by his teacher thus far in relation to love matters, and contemplates the various beautiful things in order and in the correct way, will come now towards the final goal of matters of love, and will suddenly catch sight of a beauty amazing in its nature” The Symposium
The Symposium tells of a conversation between several people at a dinner party as they all give their own definitions of what they think love is. They all come up with differing accounts, but Socrates’ speech appears most relevant to Plato’s own philosophical ideas.
Socrates tells of a conversation he has with the prophetess Diotima. What is explained is what is known as Plato’s Ladder of Love.
This is essentially the idea that love is a form of education and development of the self from the love of the physical to eventually the love of the form of beauty.
Love can begin as physical attraction, but the ultimate goal should be to use love to become wiser and more knowledgeable. This will allow for fulfilment and the living of a truly good life.
Love should not just be the companionship with and caring for another, but also a means of improving oneself. It can, for example, help you to deal with and understand past traumas, or encourage you to become a better person. It is a good thing if you change because of your lover.
“Knowledge is the food of the soul” – Protagoras
Protagoras is a dialogue concerned with the nature of sophistry – using clever but false arguments to persuade people in a discussion. Here, a strikingly succinct quote sums up Plato’s philosophy.
Knowledge is the fuel to become fulfilled individuals. Learning and striving for wisdom is the route towards living a good life. Thinking rationally about issues about our lives will allow us to deal with them better, and so will allow us to be more content with our lives.
Why these quotes by Plato are important and relevant
These Plato’s quotes are very relevant and helpful to our own lives and society today. We are all sensitive and troubled beings who long for contentment and happiness.
Plato dedicated his life to helping us understand how to achieve this. We must think rationally about issues in our lives and society, strive for wisdom and be willing to change in order to improve ourselves.
Only then can you hope to reach a state of eudaimonia. These quotes by Plato shed light on how he believes we can do this.
These quotes are brief, and only partially represent Plato’s philosophical work as a whole. But the fact their relevance is tangible two and a half thousand years later demonstrates Plato’s lasting importance and impact on society, and our own individual lives.
- Plato Complete Works, Ed. by John M. Cooper, Hackett Publishing Company
- Plato: Symposium, Edited and Translated by C.J. Rowe
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