In this article, we will talk about the great philosopher Socrates and his student Plato. This is the second part or article of the series The Beginning of Physics.
If you are new then I will suggest you to read the first part of this series: The Beginning of Physics: The Presocratics (Part-1)
Due to the lack of writings left by Socrates (he left zero writings), little is know about the man. The only information we have of him comes from secondary sources, such as his student, Plato. This challenge is so important that it’s known as the Socratic Problem.
He was either born in 469 or 470 B.C. in a small village close to Athens. In his youth, he was apprenticed to his father in the art of sculpture and even had a sculpture displayed at the acropolis. After some time working as a sculptor he went to study under the master Archelaus math and astronomy. A third-century biographer, named Diogenes Laertius, says both of them embarked on a homosexual relationship.
After some time studying the work of other philosophers, Socrates soon realized that this knowledge didn’t really help the society. Instead of questioning nature, Socrates said we should question ourselves (more of this on Plato).
Socrates was a man who questioned everything and everyone but imposed his opinions about things with a dogmatic superiority. This eventually led to his death, caused by Socrates’s opinion on democracy. He thought that the common people were not enough educated to vote. He defends the idea that people who had the right to vote should be educated for such. This method of questioning everything (know as the Socratic Method) inspired many many others on their own discoveries. Another very very important legacy left by Socrates was his student, Plato.
Plato, unlike his teacher, started studying philosophy and nature in his youth due to his aristocratic family. As a young man, he became a student of Socrates and passed down many of his ideas into books. After Socrates’ death, he left Athens and traveled abroad for 12 years. He studied math with the Pythagoreans in Italy, astronomy, and geometry in Egypt and many others. When he returned to Athens he created the Academia, the first Western institution of higher education. In this Academia he tough Socrates ideas and many of his own via the Socratic method.
He wrote many books, and in his later writings (such as The Republic and The Symposium) he introduced his theory of forms. In this theory, Plato says that reality is unavailable to those who completely rely on their senses. To understand reality as it is we use logic and reason. He explains this idea with his allegory of the cave (written in The Republic). A group of prisoners is chained for their entire lives in a cave. They are shackled in such a way that they only see a wall in front of them. Behind them, there is a fire, and between the fire and the prisoners, there is a platform where objects are displayed. The prisoners cannot observe the reality of these objects, only their shadows.
He believed that the cosmos was orderly and that all of reality was made by atoms. These atoms where perfect geometric solids, each corresponding to an element: Cubes of earth, tetrahedrons of fire, octahedrons of air, icosahedrons of water and dodecahedrons as the shape of the universe itself.
He died around 348 B.C. and he’s believed to be buried on the grounds o the Academy.