Category: Plato in 80 entries

Plato and the Sciences of his Time

Plato's authorship was carried out in the first 50 years of the 4th century B.C. During this period, his stance towards science is constantly changing. In the early dialogues, dramatic Socrates appears indifferent, even suspicious, towards the physiocratic and mathematical tradition of his preceding and contemporary thinkers. His own interest is focused on ethical problems, whereas scientific erudition is usually something that his adversaries, the Sophists, brag about. During the middle period of Plato's authorship, we witness a remarkable advance of the significance of mathematics - with Meno and Phaedo being the milestones. Mathematical knowledge is considered the model of accuracy and validity; a prerequisite to real philosophy as opposed to the investigation of nature that is brushed aside. Eventually, in the late dialogues, Plato's span of interest is expanding substantially in both the directions of social arts (rhetoric, legislation, medicine), and the whole range of natural sciences (astronomy, chemistry, biology).

However, we would be in error to assume that, while platonic philosophy progresses, the sciences have already, in the 4th c., taken a fixed form. Only pure mathematics have yielded some knowledge since the 5th c. In general, a parallel progress, which often turns to interaction, in philosophy and sciences is at work. This is evinced by the fact that the terms "science" and "scientist", as well as "mathematics", acquire their apt meaning in Plato's philosophy. In fine, Plato often revises his position within a dynamic and developing cognitive environment - the configuration of which is reciprocally influenced by Plato and his circle in the Academy. Telling is the fact that the entrance of the Academy displayed the epigram "Let no one ignorant of geometry enter".

Author: Vassilis Kalfas
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