In Plato’s early dialogues, we can see Socratesas the main figure, puzzling his interlocutors with his questions. For example,in the Laches, Socrates is seekingfor the essence of courage disembodied from any particular context. In the Euthyphyro, he was looking for a generalstandard which makes particular things pious.
And in the Meno, there was the same search for an overarching definition, thistime for virtue. What is common to all of these dialogues is that we can seethe tension between universality and particularity in the context ofdefinitions and instances, essences and attributes. All of the early dialogueswe read in the beginnings of the semester in a sense give hints about Plato’sunderstanding of philosophy and philosopher. In Plato’s eyes, Socrates was aphilosopher. He was after true nature of things. His aim was discovering thefixed concepts not as pure speculation but as a view to lead a good life. Hewas trying to reach universal, unchanging definitions of things. In a sense; hewas trying to understand things for themselves, what something really is.
Andcertainly, knowledge of something was different from its attributes andinstances. For this reason, Socrates was a philosopher for Plato. He wascritical in his discussions, he was searching for truth by carefulexaminations. This whole process was philosophical for Plato. And, it seemslike philosophical wisdom comes from the idea of universality, that is,desiring and searching for universal truths.
In this sense, we can see thehints of Plato’s understanding of philosophy and philosopher in his earlydialogues. Although his theory of forms is not developed in a systematic mannerin Socrates’ teachings yet, I think that his ideas about philosophy andphilosopher is somehow present in those dialogues. At least, we can see theseeds being sowed in Plato’s mind. Plato develops his philosophy and the roleof philosopher with his theory of forms in a rigorous matter in the Republic later. In the Republic, I think that Plato gives a kind of defense of philosophy.He shows why philosophy is crucial to the life of a good city. In this sense,as I said before, we can see in the Republicthat there is a one form of human excellence, which is philosophical life. Anda good state, which is ruled by philosopher kings, puts philosophical life inthe center of the city.
After Socrates identifies justice in both individualand political levels in the Book IV,he introduces the concept of philosopher-king in the Book V, which dominates the rest of the Republic. Then, he explains what he means by “philosopher” bymaking distinction between philosophers and lovers of sights and sounds. Forhim, lovers of sights and sounds like beautiful sounds, colors, shapes buttheir thought is unable to embrace the nature of the beautiful itself. Here, wecan see how Plato implies the Form of Beauty.
He implies that lovers of sightsand sounds do not deal with forms but they deal with particular things. Forthis reason, they are the lovers of opinions, not knowledge. In this way, Platoidentifies philosophers as lovers of wisdom. For him, only philosophers canhave knowledge as they love the sight of truth. Philosopher is the one whowould be able to reach the beautiful itself, different from lovers of sightsand sounds.
In this sense, philosopher is the one who have access to the forms,which are complete objects of thoughts. And given that only philosophers canhave knowledge, they are the best to grasp what is good for the city. Like someonewho knows how to navigate should steer ships and be captain, philosophers arethe ones who most fit to rule as they are guided by the truth and always pursueit in every way. In the following lines, Plato explains how philosopher is notmere possessor of knowledge but also the most virtuous man if it happens toreceive appropriate instruction. Then, in the final stage of construction ofthe just city, Plato explains how to produce philosopher-kings among theguardians. And it turns out that the most important thing is the study of theForm of the Good. If someone understands the Form of the Good, then he gainshighest level of knowledge and becomes fit to be a philosopher-king.
Socratesdoes not say what exactly it is but gives analogy of the Sun. He says that theSun belongs to the visible world while the Good belongs to the intelligibleworld. According to this analogy; like the sun is the source of light andtherefore visibility in the visible realm, the Good is the source ofintelligibility. Also, the sun enables us to see.
In other words, sight is theresult of the light. Similarly, like the sun enables eyes to see, the Goodenables mind to know. The Good gives us capacity for knowledge.
It gives truthto the things known and power to know to the knower. Moreover, like the sun isthe source of existence in the visible world, the Good is responsible for”coming to be” or the existence of Forms in the intelligible world. Then, Formof the Good is responsible for all knowledge, truth and for the knowing mind.For this reason, it seems like it is the ultimate aim of knowledge. In thissense, this analogy implies Plato’s understanding of philosophy and shows whyshould we be in a pursuit of knowledge. Plato’s second image, the divided lineanalogy, makes clearer the importance of the Good by showing the order andhierarchy of knowledge. The divided line represents four grades of knowledgeavailable to us. Also, it represents two types of apprehension and objects.
Thebottom two segments represent our access to the visible realm while the top tworepresent our access to the intelligible realm. For Plato, the lowest type ofthinking is imagination. A person in state of imagination considers images,shadows and reflections as the most real things in the world. The next stage inthe line is belief.
A person in the stage of belief thinks that sensibleparticulars such as natural objects and artifacts are the most real things inthe world.