This week we’re going to hop back into the world of pre-Christian classics and take a look at one of the most influential Greek writers: Plato.
Platonic works take the form of dialogues, a form of literature that other philosophers have used since. Dialogues look like scripts: Different characters represent or argue for different positions. This form often makes for more dynamic and approachable reading for people interested in philosophy but hesitant to pick up some of those dense treatises.
Socrates plays the main character in these dialogues, and it is from them that we get the term “Socratic method.” It’s important to note that Socrates himself never wrote anything—all we have of him was through Plato. Thus, for the purposes of speaking about philosophy, the views of Plato and Socrates are essentially interchangeable.
The reading is challenging and mind-bending, but the style is accessible and fun to read. The dialogues are oriented on an opening question, and Socrates asking question after question trying to get to the core of the issue. Plato’s works, particularly the dialogues contained in The Trial and Death of Socrates, are a great place to start in the world of philosophy. It is a thorough and usually easy-to-follow exploration of some of the most basic questions philosophy has sought to answer through the ages. What is God like? Who is man? What is truth, what is goodness, and what is beauty, and can we know it? Plato, through Socrates, explores all of these questions in depth. In order to understand the majority of Western philosophy, you must read Plato, followed shortly by Aristotle.
Similar to the works of Homer, Plato and the other classical philosophers had a huge influence on the world where Christianity first started blossoming. Perhaps almost as notably, early theologians borrowed from the work of Plato and Aristotle in developing the young sprout of Christian philosophy. Augustine’s view of the world was very Platonic. Thomas Aquinas was obviously influenced heavily by Aristotle. Even C.S. Lewis borrows extensively from Plato. Reading these early classical philosophers will take you far in understanding the roots of Christian philosophy.