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Recommended Plato

At least a basic familiarity with Plato is a good idea for anyone seriously interested in Classical philosophy, rhetoric, mysticism, and a range of other subjects. Fortunately, Plato wrote many brief dialogues, which read like scripts for single-scene plays. It is entirely possible to come to a basic understanding of some Platonic ideas on a given subject by finding one or two relevant dialogues dealing with the subject.

Disclaimer: For various reasons, many people have strong emotional reactions to reading some of the dialogues of Plato. Resist the impulse to overthrow a government or throw the book through an expensive window while reading these dialogues.

One question I have seen posed in various ways is that of being a good human being as a goal worth pursuing, as well as who has exemplified this and how to pursue this goal. Plato (through Socrates, who Plato used as a mouthpiece in his writings) addressed these questions in his dialogues, saying that:

  • People can come closer to truth through rational, critical dialogue, sifting the chaff from their mutual ideas (the dialectic process).
  • Virtue is knowledge and can be taught.
  • We already know the important stuff and just need to recall it, which can be achieved through the dialectic process.
  • No one does harm willingly, but commits harm by acting in ignorance of the virtue/knowledge hidden within.

I leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine to what extend he was correct in this, and whether his methods prove him correct even if he was right on the money. I personally consider Socrates to be a very interesting character from the standpoint of ethics and morality (not always synonymous terms), well worth some study.

I highly recommend The Dialogues of Plato, although you can go with the translation of your choosing. We used the specific book I link to here in one of my Philosophy classes in college. It's inexpensive, and the dialogues were translated by different scholars, which has a tendency to manage opinion drift in the translation process.

Not surprisingly, Perseus has a few collections readable in English, sparing one the need to buy a book. Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Phaedo is a collection of four of Plato's earliest works, which I personally recommend for a number of reasons. Searching Perseus for the name Plato will yield quite a few more, of course.

Here is a brief list of a few dialogues, highlighting at least one interesting nugget found within each. They tend to be brief and address a number of core questions:

  • Euthyphro, which addresses the question, "What is piety?"
  • Meno, which addresses the question, "What is virtue?" and points to some Platonic thoughts on immortality of the soul (using a Geometry trick)
  • Crito, which explores questions of honorable living (guided by reason and self-examination) in the face of tremendous difficulty
  • Phaedo, in which can be found some very concise discussion of Platonic though about a dualistic separation between the soul and body in dramatic terms