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Comparing the Personal Philosophies of Plato and Socrates

1. Introduction

It is impossible to study philosophy and not encounter the names Plato and Socrates. The two philosophers are undoubtedly among the most famous of all time. It is interesting to note, however, that despite their fame and the fact that they were contemporaries, their philosophies were very different. In this paper, I will discuss the differences between Plato and Socrates’ personal philosophies as presented in three of Plato’s dialogues: Euthyphro, Republic, and Theaetetus. While there are many similarities between the two philosophers, I will focus on three main areas where their philosophies diverge: education, wisdom, and knowledge.

2. Plato and Euthyphro: Differences in Personal Philosophy

2.1. Plato

In Plato’s dialogue Euthyphro, Socrates encounters a man by the name of Euthyphro who claims to have great wisdom. Socrates is immediately skeptical and proceeds to question Euthyphro about the nature of piety. Euthyphro defines piety as doing what is loved by the gods. Socrates then asks whether the gods love what is pious because it is pious or whether something is pious because the gods love it. Euthyphro is unable to answer this question satisfactorily, leading Socrates to conclude that Euthyphro does not actually have wisdom (Plato 10).

This exchange between Socrates and Euthyphro reveals Plato’s belief that wisdom comes from understanding the Forms of Good. In other words, things are good because the Forms of Good exist; they are not good because people or gods say they are good. This belief is in stark contrast to Socrates’ belief that things are good because the gods say they are good. For Plato, then, wisdom comes from understanding objective reality; for Socrates, wisdom comes from understanding what is subjective (i.e., what the gods say).

Plato also has very different beliefs about education than Socrates does. For Plato, education should be used to instill virtue in individuals so that they can better understand objective reality (i.e., the Forms of Good). In contrast, Socrates believes that education should be used to instill virtue in individuals so that they can better understand what is subjective (i.e., what the gods say). For Plato, then, education should be used to help individuals become wise; for Socrates, education should be used to help individuals become good (which may or may not lead to wisdom).

Finally, Plato and Socrates have different beliefs about knowledge. For Plato, knowledge is synonymous with understanding objective reality (i.e., the Forms of Good). In other words, knowledge is something that can be attained through learning and reason. For Socrates, however, knowledge is synonymous with understanding what is subjective (i.e., what the gods say). In other words, knowledge is something that can only be attained through revelation or inspiration. Consequently, for Plato, knowledge can be taught; for Socrates, it cannot.

2. 2. Socrates

In Plato’s dialogue Republic, Socrates encounters a man by the name of Thrasymachus who claims that justice is nothing more than might makes right. In other words, Thrasymachus believes that justice has nothing to do with morality; rather, it has everything to do with power. Socrates proceeds to question Thrasymachus about the nature of justice, eventually leading Thrasymachus to concede that justice is, in fact, the advantage of the stronger (Plato 14).

This exchange between Socrates and Thrasymachus reveals Socrates’ belief that justice has everything to do with morality. In other words, for Socrates, things are just because they are good; they are not good because they are just. This belief is in stark contrast to Thrasymachus’ belief that things are just because the strong say they are just. For Socrates, then, justice comes from understanding objective reality; for Thrasymachus, justice comes from understanding what is subjective (i.e., what the strong say).

Socrates also has very different beliefs about education than Plato does. For Socrates, education should be used to instill virtue in individuals so that they can better understand objective reality (i.e., justice). In contrast, Plato believes that education should be used to instill virtue in individuals so that they can better understand the Forms of Good. For Socrates, then, education should be used to help individuals become just; for Plato, education should be used to help individuals become wise (which may or may not lead to justice).

Finally, Socrates and Plato have different beliefs about knowledge. For Socrates, knowledge is synonymous with understanding objective reality (i.e., justice). In other words, knowledge is something that can be attained through learning and reason. For Plato, however, knowledge is synonymous with understanding the Forms of Good. In other words, knowledge is something that can only be attained through revelation or inspiration. Consequently, for Socrates, knowledge can be taught; for Plato, it cannot.

3. Conclusion

In conclusion, there are many significant differences between the personal philosophies of Plato and Socrates. These differences can be summarized as follows: for Plato, wisdom comes from understanding objective reality (i.e., the Forms of Good); for Socrates, wisdom comes from understanding what is subjective (i.e., what the gods say). Secondly, for Plato, education should be used to help individuals become wise; for Socrates, education should be used to help individuals become good (which may or may not lead to wisdom). Finally, for Plato, knowledge is synonymous with understanding objective reality (i.e., the Forms of Good); for Socrates, knowledge is synonymous with understanding what is subjective (i.e., what the gods say).

FAQ

Plato and Socrates had different personal philosophies due to their different views on the nature of reality. Plato believed in the existence of objective reality, while Socrates believed that reality is subjective.

These differences came about because Plato was influenced by the philosophy of Parmenides, while Socrates was influenced by the philosophy of Heraclitus.

The implications of these differences are that Plato's school of thought is more focused on knowledge and understanding the objective world, while Socrates' school of thought is more focused on individual wisdom and understanding one's own subjectivity.

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