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History of Philosophy II

Plato and Aristotle

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Michal Zvarík

The coursebook presents Plato and Aristotle as the two most significant and groundbreaking thinkers of European thought from the era of classical Greek philosophy. The author provides prefatory orientation in the labyrinth of their complex thought and sketches their metaphysics, problems of knowledge and ethics. He departs from the fact that both thinkers are similar in striving to overcome problems of their period by localizing the human being into a hierarchical order of beings, which obliges in questions of the possibility of knowledge as well as of the right conduct.
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1. Life

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Plato was born in Athens in 427 BC. The key sources of information about his life are mainly the Lives of Eminent Philosophers by Diogenes Laertius and the seventh of Plato’s Letters. He came from an aristocratic family, from his father Ariston he traced his origin from the mythical king Codrus and further to Poseidon. Similarly aristocratic is the family of his mother Perictione whose origins were similar to his father’s, so it starts at Poseidon and continues through the famous statesman Solon. Plato’s relatives are often characters in his dialogues. Two of his dialogues are named after Critias, the cousin of his mother and her brother Charmides, and in The Republic we can meet Plato’s brothers Glauconand and Adeimantus. Diogenes incidentally states that Plato was born on the same day of the year as the god Apollo and was even conceived by him (DL III, 2). These reports ← 13 | 14 →show that Plato’s person was later attributed legendary and divine features.

In his youth, Plato acquired a good education, allegedly took part in the Olympics, and wanted to dedicate his life to writing tragedies. Ultimately he was discouraged from writing when he met Socrates and he became his student at the age of 20. Plato’s life was deeply marked by contemporary political turbulence. We learn about his attitude toward it especially from the Seventh Letter. Athenian democracy, which flourished mostly after the Persian wars and during the reign of Pericles, which was spent in endless battles of...

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