In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Plato

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Texts and Translations
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • Plato in Context
  • Socrates
  • Ethics
  • Philosophy of Art
  • Psychology and Philosophy of Mind
  • Philosophy of Religion

Philosophy Plato
Sophie-Grace Chappell
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 May 2010
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 May 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0090


In the words of Alfred North Whitehead’s famous overstatement of the case: “The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato” (Process and Reality, 1929, chapter 3). This is indeed an overstatement; to say the least, some of the footnotes have become rather long by now, and some of them are more like footnotes to Plato’s opponents (to Protagoras, Thrasymachus, and Democritus, for example). All the same, more than twenty-three centuries after his death at about eighty years old in c. 347 BCE, the aristocratic Athenian statesman Plato’s philosophical writings are still key determinants of our conception of philosophy. As Richard Kraut puts it in his Stanford Encyclopedia entry on Plato, “The subject of philosophy… can be called his invention.” We pay tribute to that fact every time we ask whether knowledge is justified true belief, or wonder in what sense justice in the individual could be the same thing as justice in society, or try to define “virtue” (or any other key philosophical term), or explore the positions in metaphysics and the philosophy of mathematics that are, not inappropriately, called Platonism.

General Overviews

Three classic general books on Plato from the early to mid-20th century are Taylor 1926, Crossman 1937, and Ryle 1966. Taylor 1926 is the best and most reliable of these, but the other two are both entertaining period pieces. More recently, White 1976 is a modern classic book-length introduction to Plato. Schofield 1998 and Kraut 1992 provide general brief introductions. The online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (see Reference Works) has further articles besides Kraut’s on various more specific aspects of Plato’s philosophy, all of them useful. (One aspect of Plato’s philosophy not covered by these articles is his philosophy of mind, but see the relevant sections of the article “Ancient Theories of Soul.”) Among the numerous collections on Plato, Fine 1999 and Vlastos 1971 are outstanding. Vlastos 1981 collects the essays of arguably the most important Plato scholar of the last forty years.

  • Crossman, Richard. Plato Today. London: Unwin, 1937.

    In Crossman’s own words, in his introduction to the 1963 edition: “It does not take long for today to become yesterday; and long before the war was over, Plato Today was misnamed… One virtue of Plato Today is that every paragraph of it reeks of the 1930s.” Crossman is right to call this datedness a virtue; it is partly their historical context that makes his reflections on Plato’s politics so interesting today.

  • Fine, Gail, ed. Plato. 2 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

    The other most important collection besides Kraut’s. Two thematically distinct volumes (Plato 1: Metaphysics and Epistemology and Plato 2: Ethics, Politics, Religion, and the Soul) of essays by leading scholars.

  • Kraut, Richard, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Plato. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

    A useful collection of survey essays by different hands on different themes in Plato’s work.

  • Ryle, Gilbert. Plato’s Progress. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1966.

    Argues entertainingly for a rather idiosyncratic view of the historical development of Plato’s thought, and for a consequent chronological ordering of the dialogues.

  • Schofield, Malcom. “Plato.” In The Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Vol. 7. Edited by Edward Craig. London: Routledge, 1998.

    Brief, but a definitive survey article.

  • Taylor, A. E. Plato: The Man and His Work. London: Methuen, 1926.

    A general study. “The appearance of this book is an event of first-rate importance in the progress of philosophical studies in England”—G. C. Field, in Mind 36.141 (1927): 87.

  • Vlastos, Gregory, ed. Plato: A Collection of Critical Essays. 2 vols. Garden City, NY: Doubleday Anchor, 1971.

    An earlier collection of essays, in rather the same format as Fine 1999. Older, but still useful.

  • Vlastos, Gregory. Platonic Studies. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981.

    Vlastos’s own collected essays on a variety of themes in Plato’s ethics, metaphysics, epistemology, psychology, and political philosophy.

  • White, N. P. Plato on Knowledge and Reality. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1976.

    A classic general survey.

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