18 - In Dialogue: the Life and Works of Plato

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In this episode, Peter Adamson of King’s College London discusses the life story and writings of Plato, focusing on the question of why he wrote dialogues.



Further Reading

• J.M.Cooper and D.S. Hutchinson (eds), Plato, Complete Works (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1997).

• G. Fine (ed.), Plato 1: Metaphysics and Epistemology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999)

• G. Fine (ed.), Plato 2: Ethics, Politics, Religion, and the Soul (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).

• R. Kraut (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Plato (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).

• A.S. Mason, Plato (Durham: Acumen, 2010).

Stanford Encyclopedia: Plato


Leo on 2 June 2013

Order of Dialogues

Hi Peter,

Do the works of Plato have a known chronology; what order should one read them in? And the big question, what do philosophers and historians say regarding the Socratic problem? How do we know anything we attribute to Socrates is genuinely true?

Thanks for the amazing work by the way!

In reply to by Leo

Peter Adamson on 2 June 2013


Well, the Neoplatonists had a very firm idea of the right reading order of the dialogues but I don't think anyone would presume to prescribe one today. Generally speaking, there is the idea that the dialogues fall into early, middle and late, as I explain in the first Plato episode (the one on this page). I tend to think that any dialogue can be read on its own though, so it may be more a matter of what topic interests you most. 

As for the historical Socrates question, I think I probably said in the podcasts that I'm fairly dubious about the prospects of extracting an accurate picture of Socrates from Plato. Xenophon might be a more accurate source but he also has his own axes to grind. Perhaps one could say that the points on which Aristophanes, Xenophon and Plato agree are secure, but the overlap is not big!

Joan Kerr on 31 July 2013

can you help with this reference?

Hi Peter,

a friend is trying to track down the source of the quotation "Man: a being in search of meaning" said to be from Plato. Can you point him in the right direction?

Thanks for the whole series- I am still with you from beginning to Islam and it's the light of my life.

In reply to by Joan Kerr

Jacob Longshore on 9 April 2023

Re: Man in search of meaning quote

Hello Joan and Peter,

It may be a little late to settle the matter, but for anyone who cares: the quote is actually by Abraham Joshua Heschel, who is responding to Ernst Cassirer, himself summarizing Plato's work. (I didn't track these down myself entirely. Someone else had had the same question as you, and a friendly soul took the trouble to answer it; I'm just relaying it after checking the sources.)


Cassirer, Ernst. An Essay on Man, p. 20. https://archive.org/details/ErnstCassirerAnEssayOnMan/page/n18/mode/1up?q=Plato


Herschel, Abraham Joshua. The Insecurity of Freedom, p. 163. https://archive.org/details/insecurityoffree0000hesc/page/160/mode/1up?q=%22In+search+of+meaning


Friendly soul's answer: https://latin.stackexchange.com/questions/16177/did-plato-describe-man-as-a-being-in-search-of-meaning


Alexander Johnson on 11 October 2018

Authentic Dialogues

Just curious, which of the disputed dialogues (Hippias Major, Fist Alciblades, Clitophon, Spistles, Menexenus) do you think are authentic?  Of the ones that aren't, do any of the ones written by PseudoPlato worth reading?

In reply to by Alexander Johnson

Peter Adamson on 11 October 2018

Authentic dialogues

I don't have settled views on all of those but wrote a paper on the Menexenus recently and am convinced it is genuine; I also tend to think First Alcibiades is authentic. Apart from that, not sure and particularly not sure about all the Epistles. But these are all worth reading, I would say, as being at the very least evidence for how Plato was being constructed as an author already in antquity.

Grisy on 27 August 2022

Book reference

Which copy of the complete works of Plato is the one you mention or is there a version you would recommend? Thank you!

In reply to by Grisy

Peter Adamson on 28 August 2022

Complete works

I'd go for the one published by Hackett, edited by John Cooper.

Luke on 8 November 2023

Re: Plato's Apology

This is my theory regarding the Apology:


Socrates is not the one on trial. It is the affidavit.


Why do I think this? Socrates says he is defending himself, but his arguments prove true every charge.


He has "corrupted" the youth. He has formed heretical ideas about deity. He has challenged the institutions.


But we need Socrates. He challenges us to come after him every way we can. That means that to emulate Socrates is not to imbibe him, it is to question him with a searching critique.


Every shooting range needs targets. It is how we refine our ideas.


The Apology argues that it is wrong to restrict philosophy. And philosophy is inherently a rebel against the State.

In reply to by Luke

Peter Adamson on 8 November 2023


Yes I definitely agree that the Apology is passing judgment on the trial, not the trial passing judgment on Socrates! In fact Socrates seems to be doing that himself in the dialogue (worth comparing to the version in Xenophon by the way). I am not quite with you on the last sentence though: obviously quite a few philosophers have been rebels but there are also conservative, even reactionary philosophers (Burke, for instance) and in fact Plato himself has more than a few conservative elements in his thought. In fact one of the intriguing things about Plato is how he can seem "reactionary" and "revolutionary" in the same text, notably in the Republic.

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