Plato is one of the most influential philosophical authors in any time period. As a citizen of high stature in Athens, Plato demonstrated great insight into the political and intellectual events of his time. However, the questions he raises to examine these events are just as moving to modern readers of his philosophy. The modern conception of philosophy, as a highly structured examination of ethical, political, metaphysical, and epistemological issues, can be traced back to his invention. The twentieth-century philospher Alfred North Whitehead once commented that all philosophy is but a footnote to Plato.
Plato’s biography is very difficult to write because he almost never discussed himself in any of his works. His only autobiographical references appear in the Apology and the Phædo, each time in reference to Socrates’ trial and death. It is fairly confirmed that Plato was born shortly after the death of Pericles to one of the noblest families in Athens. He was supposedly descended from Codrus, the last legendary king of Athens, through his father. There is also little evidence as to whether Plato’s famous dialogues were ever published outside of his Academy, although most scholars take this fact for granted.
One of the most important events in Plato's life was his encounter with Socrates during his youth. Plato was a follower of Socrates until Socrates's trial and death in 399 B.C. Based on his background, he should have entered a political career. Disillusionment with Athenian politics since his youth and Socrates's influence instead led Plato to believe mankind's fate would be hopeless without a major change in his contemporaries' education. Plato believed that this change could be brought about only through “philosophy” (etymologically, friendship with wisdom). He opened a school in Athens, called the Academy, to educate future leaders of cities.
From then on, Plato's life was dedicated to teaching and running his school. After his death, his nephew succeeded him at the head of the Academy. This deeply hurt Aristotle, as he had been a student and teacher at the Academy for over twenty years and felt he should have succeeded Plato. The Academy kept functioning, under different guises, for centuries after Plato's death.
Many things about Plato’s philosophy make him unique. First, almost all of his works are dialogues. These dialogues also feature real people as their protagonists, not a fictional or mythical world as was common in moral stories. Socrates also appears as the main debater in almost all of the dialogues. Secondly, in comparison with the work of other great philosophers such as Aristotle or Kant, Plato’s philosophy is much less structured and open-ended. Readers of a Platonic dialogue are challenged into thinking for themselves about the dialogue’s issues, and many of his works therefore give their readers a strong sense of philosophy as a living and unfinished subject to which they themselves will have to contribute. All of Plato's works are in some way meant to leave further work for their readers, unlike the systematic and semantic works of philosophers such as Kant.
"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. "
"No evil can happen to a good man, either in life or after death."
- Plato's Apology