Introduction to the Study of Plato

In David Ebrey & Richard Kraut (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Plato, 2nd ed. Cambridge, UK: pp. 1-38 (2022)
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This chapter offers a guide to reading Plato’s dialogues, including an overview of his corpus. We recommend first considering each dialogue as its own unified work, before considering how it relates to the others. In general, the dialogues explore ideas and arguments, rather than presenting parts of a comprehensive philosophical system that settles on final answers. The arc of a dialogue frequently depends on who the individual interlocutors are. We argue that the traditional division of the corpus (into Socratic, middle, late stages) is useful, regardless of whether it is a chronological division. Our overview of the corpus gives special attention to the Republic, since it interweaves so many of his key ideas, even if nearly all of them receive longer treatments in other dialogues. Although Plato recognized the limits inherent in written (as opposed to spoken) philosophy, he devoted his life to producing these works, which are clearly meant to help us seek the deepest truths. Little can be learned from reports of Plato’s oral teaching or the letters attributed to him. Understanding the dialogues on their own terms is what offers the greatest reward.

Author Profiles

Richard Kraut
Northwestern University
David Ebrey
Universitat de Barcelona


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