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The Context of Plato

1 January 2010


The Platonic dialogues serve as a launching point for any student of philosophy and are often used in other fields such as literature as a base for a specific type of writing and critical thinking. Plato is not the first philosopher; however, it is his dialogues that introduce many of the fundamental problems of philosophy and launched a foundational approach to philosophy, dialectic. Plato is also a primary focus of advanced scholars for both his historical position as a philosopher as well as the content found within his writings. Such scholars find themselves consumed with one perplexing question: how should we interpret the dialogues? This question arises because of the chronological confusion of when each dialogue was written and the seeming contradictions found between the dialogues. For instance, on the topic of death there seems to be a contradiction between the Gorgias and the Apology. In the Gorgias, Socrates states that we should fear death because of the judgment that takes place upon our death. However, in the Apology he states that we should not fear death because we do not have knowledge of it and therefore cannot assume that it is evil. In one dialogue we should fear death because we know what happens upon our death and in the other dialogue we should not fear death because we do not know what happens upon our death. How should we interpret the dialogues? Is there a contradiction? Did Plato change his mind?

Interpretations have offered resolutions to the seeming contradictions of the dialogues. These modes of interpretations range from devising a religion of Socrates to chronologically ordering the dialogues and making a distinction between who is actually speaking, Plato or Socrates. Though these interpretations provide valuable and even plausible information concerning the dialogues, they also fall into problems of their own which leaves the lingering question of how to interpret the dialogues open for further examination.


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