Lesson 1: Plato’s Biography & Historical Context

Welcome to Lesson 1 of Plato: The Great Philosopher-Educator. In this lesson, Dr. David Diener will introduce the great philosopher-educator, Plato, by providing a brief biography and describing the historical context in which he lived.

Recommended Reading

In preparation for this lesson, we recommend reading the introduction, chapter 1 (“A Brief Biography”), and chapter 2 (“Plato’s Historical Context”) in the corresponding course text, Plato: The Great Philosopher-Educator by Dr. David Diener.

Lecture Notes

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Discussion Questions
  • When you hear the name Plato, what associations come to mind? In other words, how has Plato’s legacy reached you, whether through formal study or indirectly?
  • What are your initial impressions of how much Plato has influenced you in your pedagogical theory and practice?
  • What were the major cultural differences between Sparta and Athens?
  • How were the cultural strengths and weaknesses of Sparta similar to or different from those of our own society?
  • How were the cultural strengths and weaknesses of Athens similar to or different from those of our own society?
Recommended Resources
  • Books

    • Plato: A Very Short Introduction
    • Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture by Werner Jaeger, trans. Gilbert Highet (Volume 1, Volume 2, and Volume 3)

    Paideia, the shaping of Greek character through a union of civilization, tradition, literature, and philosophy, is the basis for Jaeger’s evaluation of Hellenic culture. Volume I describes the foundation, growth, and crisis of Greek culture during the archaic and classical epochs, ending with the collapse of the Athenian empire. The second and third volumes of the work deal with the intellectual history of ancient Greece in the Age of Plato during the fourth century BC, the age in which Greece lost everything that is valued in this world—state, power, liberty—but still clung to the concept of paideia. As its last great poet, Menander summarized the primary role of this ideal in Greek culture when he said: “The possession which no one can take away from man is paideia.

    Kagan, classical scholar and historian of international relations, ancient and modern, presents a sweeping new narrative of this epic contest that captures all its drama, action, and tragedy.

    In this book, Christopher Taylor explores the relationship between the historical Socrates and the engaging and infuriating figure who appears in Plato’s dialogues, and examines the enduring image of Socrates as the ideal exemplar of the philosophic life—a thinker whose moral and intellectual integrity permeated every detail of his life, even in the face of betrayal and execution by his fellow Athenians.

    Plato’s Republic, his most famous work, is a dialogue in which he considers the notion of justice.

    Articles/Online Resources

    Plato’s Apology depicts Socrates’s trial and defense of himself.

    This article gives a brief overview of the loose association of Greek city-states known as the Delian League.

    This article gives a brief overview of the life and influence of Solon, the great Athenian statesman.

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