Finding God in Plato's Closet
When people define the term “philosopher,” they typically describe an eccentric person who lacks common sense and imposes radical theories onto non-believers of their philosophies.
Yet, this stereotype could not be more inaccurate. Plato, a loyal pupil of the well known philosopher, Socrates, was one of the most brilliant men of his time. Spending most of his career studying a vast majority of in-depth theories and unrealized ideas, Plato wrote some of the finest Greek prose ever created in which he interwove his philosophies. He was the first philosopher whose writings stayed unblemished. Without a doubt, all of Western philosophy can be traced back or associated to the original ideas of Plato. Plato was born in Athens, Greece, where his father died at an early age.
Soon after his father’s death, Plato’s mother was remarried to Pyrilampes, a successful politician. During Plato’s early life, he trained and competed as a wrestler because of his broad stature and firm build. Though he never found complete satisfaction in the sport, he still won numerous trophies and titles. At the time, he was also studying music, poetry, and metaphysics, hoping to find a field in which he could prosper. Lacking both the talent and interest in every subject he studied, he found himself with limited options of careers. As a last effort out of desperation, he dragged himself to a lecture by the famous philosopher, Socrates.
Plato found himself helplessly intrigued by the genius, and spent the next nine years as a loyal disciple of Socrates. With the new philosophical insight from Socrates, Plato’s desire to be a political leader deepened. He joined the Athenian oligarchy known as the Thirty Tyrants, and was immediately appalled by the violence and corruption of his fellow politicians. He stepped down from his authority soon after obtaining it, thinking he would reclaim it after a more stable democracy was imposed. Though his wish was finally granted, the new and seemingly libertarian government found Plato’s beloved teacher and friend Socrates, guilty of corrupting the minds of the youths, and sentenced him to death. Plato was white with livid anger, and out of this anger he vowed never again to chase a political career.
Fearing that the Athenian government would accuse him as well, Plato and other pupils of Socrates left Athens. Plato would spend the next fifty years traveling throughout the Mediterranean, writing artistically philosophical stories and studying newly discovered mathematical marvels. This life-long journey of research and analysis brought forth many revolutionary ideas, but two of his most defining philosophies exhibited through his prose are that of the origin of the universe and the theory of true reality. Plato is credited with numerous discoveries in math, geometry, literature, and ethics, yet his most famous philosophy is undeniably the theory of true reality. Plato’s theory of true reality is more formally called the theory of Forms and Ideas. This theory, in its simplest form, states that the carnal objects of this world, being anything from an atom to an orca whale, are neither consistent nor eternal.
These substances will inevitably change or digress; however, forms of a more transcendent realm are never-ending. For instance, an Apple is a simple carnal object, subject to degradation and change, but if you look at a single characteristic or “form” as Plato describes it, that form is eternal. If one focused on the form of smoothness, one can conclude through Plato’s logic that smoothness is a separate being all together from the apple; that smoothness exists independently outside of the apple. It is the apple that copies this form of smoothness. Other forms, such as crunchiness, color, and roundness, can be seen through the apple.
Plato states that all of these forms are perfect, and that carnal objects are imperfect coagulations of these forms. Plato uses a picture of shadows in a cave to illustrate his reasoning behind his theory of Forms. As the image is described, imagine a fire blazing in a cave while a group of humans dance to and fro in front of it, casting shadows onto the walls of the cave. According to Plato, the shadows on the wall are the objects of the world, which are inconsistent and constantly changing. The dancers in front of the fire represent the Forms.
In the illustration, the dancers are always consistent, and their image never changes; however, when the dancers move around and join with one another, the images on the cave wall seem to transform. To this day, modern philosophers study Plato’s theory of Forms and Ideas, and marvel at his abstract yet surprisingly rational philosophy. Without a doubt, Plato’s theory of Forms is the most studied philosophy of Western history. Though Plato’s Theory of Forms and Ideas is his most famous philosophy, perhaps the most intriguing philosophy of his is that of the origin of the universe. While Plato was a fairly secular philosopher, his conjecture on the origin of earth has an exceptionally creationistic mindset.
Through the dialogue of Timaeus, Plato states his theory on creation. In this dialogue, one of the two characters, Timaeus, states: “Let me tell you then why the creator made this world of generation. He was good, and the good can never have any jealousy of anything. And being free from jealousy, he desired that all things should be as like himself as they could be. This is in the truest sense the origin of creation and of the world, as we shall do well in believing on the testimony of wise men: God desired that all things should be good and nothing bad, so far as this was attainable. Wherefore also finding the whole visible sphere not at rest, but moving in an irregular and disorderly fashion, out of disorder he brought order, considering that this was in every way better than the other.
Now the deeds of the best could never be or have been other than the fairest; and the creator, reflecting on the things which are by nature visible, found that no unintelligent creature taken as a whole was fairer than the intelligent taken as a whole; and that intelligence could not be present in anything which was devoid of soul. For which reason, when he was framing the universe, he put intelligence in soul, and soul in body, that he might be the creator of a work which was by nature fairest and best. Wherefore, using the language of probability, we may say that the world became a living creature truly endowed with soul and intelligence by the providence of God.” Plato voices his hypothesis on creation through the main character, Timaeus. In the above quote, Timaeus is conversing with Socrates about philosophies he has learned.
He states through this dialogue that God (later described as the Craftsman) made humans in the image of himself, and to all humans on earth he gave both intelligence and a soul to separate them from other life forms. After the “Craftsman” created man in the image of a pure deity, he was filled with exuberance and joy. He was pleased with their very existence. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the Craftsman uses mathematical processes to turn the tumult of the universe into an ordered process of nature. Secular and Christian scholars alike are astounded by Plato’s distinct belief in creation.
Though Plato had never received any kind of Judaist teaching or insight, his Platonic Theory of Creation lined up almost directly with the Jewish historical texts. Plato’s intellectual genius never ceased to flow from his mind out of his mouth or onto a piece of parchment. Products of this gushing river of knowledge captured audiences and disciples from all walks of life. The philosophies of Plato, apart from the bible, were the first of their kind. To the astonishment of most biblical scholars, Plato’s key philosophies line up almost completely with the teachings found in the Holy Bible. Though it may be hard to ascertain a connection between Plato’s philosophy of Forms and Ideas and the Bible, if we compare the two at a spiritual and emotional level, we can see that the two line up almost completely.
By looking at the theory of Forms from a human-spiritualistic point of view, we can determine that our physical, carnal bodies are always changing and inexorably advancing toward an end. Although our physical bodies eventually pass away, our spirit will live on, and join our sacred Craftsman in his house. Furthermore, our legacy will live on, too. What we do on earth will not die off with our mortal bodies; our accomplishments on earth, whether beneficial or detrimental, will have an eternal effect on those we leave behind. This same mindset can also be seen in the Bible; the apostle Paul states in 2 Corinthians 4:18 that, “…we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
” What is seen is our earthly bodies, which will, in due course, decay and wither, yet what is unseen (to the eye) is our spirit and the way in which we leave the world. Our spirit is eternal, and where a person spends eternity depends on the state of his salvation. Plato had never studied any text of Judeo-Christian influence, yet his hypothesis on eternal and mortal entities lines up perfectly with the Bible. We can also see a correlation between his philosophies and the Bible through the theory of creation. In Plato’s artistically written prose, Timaeus, he explains his conjecture on the origin of the universe. He states that a divine Craftsman not only created the world by taking chaos and taming it to a natural order, but he also created man with a soul and an intelligence set apart from all other life forms.
According to the text, the Craftsman was delighted with his creation of man, and was thrilled with man’s very existence. Similarly, the Bible explains the entire process of creation through Genesis 1. Just like Plato, the Bible explains that God created the heavens and the earth, turning a dark, void world into a flourishing planet filled with life. In five days, God had shaped the land and the sea, along with wildlife to roam earth’s landscapes. Nevertheless, God wasn’t completely content with his creation, and decided to fashion a creature like none of the others.
Out of the dust, he formed this being, and breathing a soul into his lungs, God created man. This, God said, was his finest creation yet. Man was God’s most prized creation, and it is because of this that God sent his only son as a holy sacrifice to save man from eternal damnation (John 3:16). One can see based on these examples that Plato’s key beliefs align perfectly with the teachings of the Holy Bible. Not only were Plato’s philosophies some of the finest Greek prose ever written, but his beliefs, for a secular philosopher, were some of the most astonishing conjectures of the time.
Without a doubt, Plato had a spiritual gifting for teaching and writing, and though he never formally credited his talent to God, he still wrote of His excellence through ingenious stories. By his unique and impressive philosophies, Plato set a trend for the rest of western philosophy to follow. Along with Socrates, Plato is undoubtedly the greatest philosopher in the history of mankind.