Platonism, rendered as a proper noun, is the philosophy of
the name of other philosophical systems considered closely derived
from it. In narrower usage, platonism, rendered as a common noun,
refers to the philosophy that affirms the existence of abstract
objects, which are asserted to "exist" in a "third realm" distinct
both from the sensible external world and from the internal world of
consciousness, and is the opposite of nominalism. Lower case
"platonists" need not accept any of the doctrines of Plato.
In a narrower sense, the term might indicate the doctrine of Platonic
realism. The central concept of Platonism, a distinction essential to
the Theory of Forms, is the distinction between the reality which is
perceptible but unintelligible, and the reality which is imperceptible
but intelligible. The forms are typically described in dialogues such
as the Phaedo, Symposium and Republic as transcendent perfect
archetypes of which objects in the everyday world are imperfect
In the Republic the highest form is identified as the Form of the
Good, the source of all other forms, which could be known by reason.
In the Sophist, a later work, the forms being, sameness and difference
are listed among the primordial "Great Kinds". In the 3rd century BC,
Arcesilaus adopted skepticism, which became a central tenet of the
school until 90 BC when Antiochus added Stoic elements, rejected
skepticism, and began a period known as Middle Platonism.
In the 3rd century AD,
Plotinus added mystical elements, establishing
Neoplatonism, in which the summit of existence was the One or the
Good, the source of all things; in virtue and meditation the soul had
the power to elevate itself to attain union with the One. Platonism
had a profound effect on Western thought, and many Platonic notions
were adopted by the Christian church which understood Plato's forms as
God's thoughts, while
Neoplatonism became a major influence on
Christian mysticism, in the West through St Augustine, Doctor of the
Catholic Church whose Christian writings were heavily influenced by
Plotinus' Enneads, and in turn were foundations for the whole of
Western Christian thought.
2.1 The Academy
2.2 Middle Platonism
Christianity and Platonism
3 Modern Platonism
4 See also
6 Further reading
7 External links
The primary concept is the Theory of Forms. The only true being is
founded upon the forms, the eternal, unchangeable, perfect types, of
which particular objects of moral and responsible sense are imperfect
copies. The multitude of objects of sense, being involved in perpetual
change, are thereby deprived of all genuine existence. The number
of the forms is defined by the number of universal concepts which can
be derived from the particular objects of sense. The following
excerpt may be representative of Plato's middle period metaphysics and
[Socrates:] "Since the beautiful is opposite of the ugly, they are
[Glaucon:] "Of course."
"And since they are two, each is one?"
"I grant that also."
"And the same account is true of the just and unjust, the good and the
bad, and all the forms. Each of them is itself one, but because they
manifest themselves everywhere in association with actions, bodies,
and one another, each of them appears to be many."
"So, I draw this distinction: On one side are those you just now
called lovers of sights, lovers of crafts, and practical people; on
the other side are those we are now arguing about and whom one would
alone call philosophers."
"How do you mean?"
"The lovers of sights and sounds like beautiful sounds, colors,
shapes, and everything fashioned out of them, but their thought is
unable to see and embrace the nature of the beautiful itself."
"That's for sure."
"In fact, there are very few people who would be able to reach the
beautiful itself and see it by itself. Isn't that so?"
"What about someone who believes in beautiful things, but doesn't
believe in the beautiful itself and isn't able to follow anyone who
could lead him to the knowledge of it? Don't you think he is living in
a dream rather than a wakened state? Isn't this dreaming: whether
asleep or awake, to think that a likeness is not a likeness but rather
the thing itself that it is like?"
"I certainly think that someone who does that is dreaming."
"But someone who, to take the opposite case, believes in the beautiful
itself, can see both it and the things that participate in it and
doesn't believe that the participants are it or that it itself is the
participants--is he living in a dream or is he awake?
"He's very much awake."
(Republic Bk. V, 475e-476d, translation G.M.A Grube)
Book VI of the Republic identifies the highest form as the Form of the
Good, the cause of all other Ideas, and that on which the being and
knowing of all other Forms is contingent. Conceptions derived from the
impressions of sense can never give us the knowledge of true being;
i.e. of the forms. It can only be obtained by the soul's activity
within itself, apart from the troubles and disturbances of sense; that
is to say, by the exercise of reason. Dialectic, as the instrument
in this process, leading us to knowledge of the forms, and finally to
the highest form of the Good, is the first of sciences. Later
Neoplatonism, beginning with Plotinus, identified the Good of the
Republic with the so-called transcendent, absolute One of the first
hypothesis of the
Platonist ethics is based on the Form of the Good.
knowledge, the recognition of the supreme form of the good. And,
since in this cognition, the three parts of the soul, which are
reason, spirit, and appetite, all have their share, we get the three
virtues, Wisdom, Courage, and Moderation. The bond which unites the
other virtues is the virtue of Justice, by which each part of the soul
is confined to the performance of its proper function.
Platonism had a profound effect on Western thought. In many
interpretations of the Timaeus Platonism, like Aristotelianism,
poses an eternal universe, as opposed to the nearby
that the universe had been created in historical time, with its
continuous history recorded. Unlike Aristotelianism, Platonism
describes idea as prior to matter and identifies the person with the
soul. Many Platonic notions secured a permanent place in
Main article: Platonic Academy
Site of Plato's Academy in Athens
Platonism was originally expressed in the dialogues of Plato, in which
the figure of
Socrates is used to expound certain doctrines, that may
or may not be similar to the thought of the historical Socrates,
Plato delivered his lectures at the Academy, a
precinct containing a sacred grove outside the walls of Athens. The
school continued there long after Plato's death. There were three
periods: the Old, Middle, and New Academy. The chief figures in the
Old Academy were
Speusippus (Plato's nephew), who succeeded him as the
head of the school (until 339 BC), and
Xenocrates (until 313 BC). Both
of them sought to fuse Pythagorean speculations on number with Plato's
theory of forms.
Around 266 BC,
Arcesilaus became head of the Academy. This phase,
known as the Middle Academy, strongly emphasized Academic skepticism.
It was characterized by its attacks on the
Stoics and their assertion
of the certainty of truth and our knowledge of it. The New Academy
Carneades in 155 BC, the fourth head in succession from
Arcesilaus. It was still largely skeptical, denying the possibility of
knowing an absolute truth; both
Carneades believed that
they were maintaining a genuine tenet of Plato.
Main article: Middle Platonism
Around 90 BC,
Antiochus of Ascalon rejected skepticism, making way for
the period known as Middle Platonism, in which
Platonism was fused
with certain Peripatetic and many Stoic dogmas. In Middle Platonism,
the Platonic Forms were not transcendent but immanent to rational
minds, and the physical world was a living, ensouled being, the
World-Soul. Pre-eminence in this period belongs to Plutarch. The
eclectic nature of
Platonism during this time is shown by its
Pythagoreanism (Numenius of Apamea) and into Jewish
philosophy (Philo of Alexandria).
Main article: Neoplatonism
In the third century,
Plotinus recast Plato's system, establishing
Neoplatonism, in which
Middle Platonism was fused with mysticism. At
the summit of existence stands the One or the Good, as the source of
all things. It generates from itself, as if from the reflection of
its own being, reason, the nous, - wherein is contained the infinite
store of ideas. The world-soul, the copy of the nous, is generated
by and contained in it, as the nous is in the One, and, by informing
matter in itself nonexistent, constitutes bodies whose existence is
contained in the world-soul. Nature therefore is a whole, endowed
with life and soul. Soul, being chained to matter, longs to escape
from the bondage of the body and return to its original source. In
virtue and philosophical thought it has the power to elevate itself
above the reason into a state of ecstasy, where it can behold, or
ascend to, that one good primary Being whom reason cannot know. To
attain this union with the Good, or God, is the true function of human
Plotinus' disciple, Porphyry, followed by Iamblichus, developed the
system in conscious opposition to Christianity. The Platonic Academy
was re-established during this period; its most renowned head was
Proclus (died 485), a celebrated commentator on Plato's writings. The
Academy persisted until Roman emperor
Justinian closed it in 529.
Christianity and Platonism
Many Western churchmen, including
Augustine of Hippo, have been
influenced by Platonism.
Neoplatonism and Christianity
Platonism has had some influence on
Christianity through Clement of
Alexandria and Origen, and the Cappadocian Fathers. St.
Augustine was heavily influenced by
Platonism as well, which he
encountered through the Latin translations of
Marius Victorinus of the
works of Porphyry and/or Plotinus.
Platonism was considered authoritative in the Middle Ages.
Platonism also influenced both Eastern and Western mysticism.
Platonism influenced various philosophers. While
Aristotle became more influential than
Plato in the 13th century, St.
Thomas Aquinas's philosophy was still in certain respects
With the Renaissance, scholars became more interested in Plato
himself. In 16th, 17th century, and 19th century England, Plato's
ideas influenced many religious thinkers. Orthodox
continental Europe, however, distrusts natural reason and has often
been critical of Platonism. An issue in the reception of
Europe was how to deal with the same-sex elements of his
Christoplatonism is a term used to refer to a dualism opined by Plato,
which influenced some church, which holds spirit is good but matter is
evil. Though the Bible's teaching directly contradicts this
philosophy and thus receives constant criticism from many teachers in
the Christian Church today. According to the Methodist Church,
Christoplatonism directly "contradicts the Biblical record of God
calling everything He created good."
Apart from historical
Platonism originating from thinkers such as
Plato himself, Numenius, Plotinus,
Augustine and Proclus, we also
encounter the theory of abstract objects in the modern sense.
Platonism is the view that there exist such things as abstract objects
— where an abstract object is an object that does not exist in space
or time and which is therefore entirely non-physical and non-mental.
Platonism in this sense is a contemporary view.
Platonism (sometimes rendered "platonism," with a
lower-case p, to distinguish it from the ancient schools) has been
endorsed in one way or another at one time or another by numerous
philosophers (mostly Austrian Realists and analytic philosophers
taking a particular interest in the philosophy and foundations of
logic and mathematics), including Bernard Bolzano, Gottlob Frege,
Edmund Husserl, Bertrand Russell, Alonzo Church, Kurt Gödel, W. V. O.
Quine, Hilary Putnam, George Bealer and Edward Zalta.
Platonism recognizes a range of objects, including numbers,
sets, truth values, properties, types, propositions and meanings.
In the recent Continental tradition, prominent philosophers interested
Platonism (in the sense of Platonic thought) include Leo Strauss,
Simone Weil and Alain Badiou.
Harold F. Cherniss, scholar of Plato's relation to Aristotle
List of ancient Platonists
Plato's unwritten doctrines, debates over Plato's esotericism
Platonism in the Renaissance
^ a b " Philosophers who affirm the existence of abstract objects are
sometimes called platonists; those who deny their existence are
sometimes called nominalists. This terminology is lamentable, since
these words have established senses in the history of philosophy,
where they denote positions that have little to do with the modern
notion of an abstract object. However, the contemporary senses of
these terms are now established, and so the reader should be aware of
them. In this connection, it is essential to bear in mind that modern
platonists (with a small 'p') need not accept any of the doctrines of
Plato, just as modern nominalists need not accept the doctrines of the
medieval Nominalists." - "Abstract Objects", Gideon Rosen, The
Stanford Encyclopedia of
Philosophy (Spring 2012 Edition), Edward N.
Zalta (ed.), 
^ O'Connell SJ, RJ, The
Enneads and St Augustine's Vision of
Happiness. Vigiliae Christianae 17 (1963) 129-164 (JSTOR)
^ Pelikan, Jaroslav. The Christian Tradition: A
History of the
Development of Doctrine. Vol 1, The Emergence of the Catholic
Tradition 100-600; Pelikan, Jaroslav. The Christian Tradition: A
History of the Development of Doctrine. Vol 3, The Growth of Mediaeval
Theology 600-1300, section, "The Augustinian Synthesis"
^ a b c d e f g h Oskar Seyffert, (1894), Dictionary of Classical
Antiquities, page 481
^ cf. Proclus' commentary on the Timaeus; Cornford 1937
^ a b c d e f g h i j "Platonism." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford
dictionary of the Christian church. New York: Oxford University Press.
^ a b c d e f Oskar Seyffert, (1894), Dictionary of Classical
Antiquities, page 484
^ Armstrong, A. H., ed., The Cambridge
History of Later Greek and
Early Medieval Philosophy, Cambridge, 1970.
^ Louth, Andrew. The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition: From
Plato to Denys. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983.
^ Reeser, Todd W. 2016. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
^ a b Robin Russell (6 April 2009). "Heavenly minded: It's time to get
our eschatology right, say scholars, authors". UM Portal. Archived
from the original on 22 July 2011. Retrieved 10 March 2011. Greek
philosophers—who believed that spirit is good but matter is
evil—also influenced the church, says Randy Alcorn, author of Heaven
(Tyndale, 2004). He coined the term "Christoplatonism" to describe
that kind of dualism, which directly contradicts the biblical record
God calling everything he created "good."
^ Balaguer, Mark (25 March 2018). Zalta, Edward N., ed. The Stanford
Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford
University. Retrieved 25 March 2018 – via Stanford Encyclopedia of
^ Gestalt Theory: Official Journal of the Society for Gestalt Theory
and Its Applications (GTA), 22, Steinkopff, 2000, p. 94: "Attention
has varied between Continental Phenomenology (late Husserl,
Merleau-Ponty) and Austrian Realism (Brentano, Meinong, Benussi, early
Ackermann, C. The Christian Element in
Plato and the Platonic
philosophy. Translated by Asbury Samuel Ralph. Edinburgh: T. & T.
Cassirer, Ernst. The Platonic
Renaissance in England. Translated by
James P. Pettegrove. Edinburgh: Nelson, 1953.
Kristeller, Paul Oskar, "
Renaissance Platonism." In Renaissance
Thought: the Classic, Scholastic, and Humanistic Strains. New York:
Walker, Daniel Pickering. The Ancient Theology: Studies in Christian
Platonism from the Fifteenth to the Eighteenth Century. London:
Platonism and Christian Neoplatonism
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