I'm currently writing a paper for a class that's supposed to "weave" together the philosophical system presented in Plato's Allegory and dialogues.

When I spoke with my professor on the assignment, he said that Plato's own philosophical opinions were unwritten and cannot necessarily be gleaned from his own writings, and thus I ought not to refer to the system found in Plato's texts as "Plato's philosophy."

Is this true? Are we wrong to attribute things like the Theory of Forms and the proto-social contract theory as described in Meno to Plato?

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    Assuming that we still have doubt about (some of) Plato's works, and that is still ranging the controversy about so-called Plato's unwritten doctrines, the text of Plato's dialogues are complex. For sure, there are parts that expose doctrine of others, like the Sophists. Having said that, it is true that there is no P's system (like e.g Spinoza's one or Kant's) but to assert that he (Plato) "did not believe in what he had written in his dialogues" seems to me a not correct. Commented Oct 2, 2016 at 6:58
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    More specifically, Theory of Forms is without any doubt Plato's. Commented Oct 2, 2016 at 6:59
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    It's probably a more careful way to speak to refer to the viewpoints presented in certain dialogues rather than attributing a complete system to Plato. The carefuleness makes sense because there's some active debates about Plato's thought (how to split it, when we might imagine its Socrates' own view, when we might imagine Plato is sharing his own view, how much he changed his views, etc.)
    – virmaior
    Commented Oct 2, 2016 at 14:12
  • ... But I doubt he doesn't think what he's writing -- or rather this a non-productive claim. Whatever evidence one could lay out to say we don't have Plato's views would be infinitely more speculative and laughable compared to just attributing the views to Plato and applying care in saying which text these views appear in.
    – virmaior
    Commented Oct 2, 2016 at 14:13
  • Not entirely sure about this but Bertrand Russell points out something similar in his book History of western philosophy where he attributes the stylistic differences between the Socratic dialogues the Apology of Socrates to the Jury, by Xenophon, and the Apology of Socrates . He believes that Plato's physiological insights might have affected his writings thereby creating differences in accounts.
    – shrey
    Commented Oct 5, 2016 at 12:03

2 Answers 2


It's true that in Plato's dialogues he never speaks explicitly on behalf of himself. Still, there has been a wide consensus to interpret the dialogues such that the always-present character Socrates represents either the original Socrates (in the "early" dialogues) or Plato (in the "middle" and "late" dialogues).

In addition, the dialogues are not our only sources as to Plato's views. We also have the testimony of Aristotle, who spent about twenty years in Plato's presence, in the Academy. Aristotle discusses Plato's views in various works, usually criticizing these views, but also paying respect to Plato. Thus Aristotle discusses the Theory of Forms in the Metaphysics, the Unity of Goodness in the Ethics, and the Philosophical Republic in the Politics.

So you are correct in that in general we can and do attribute views from Plato's dialogues to Plato, and/or to Socrates. Still, I suppose that it is your professor's prerogative to require that in his course you put this aside, and just analyze the dialogues on their own, without adding the interpretation that they do, or do not, reflect Plato's own views.


It seems Socrates was a real person and was hermeneutically followed and quoted by Plato. That means two distinct persons with different views existed. It was opined that, in The Laws, the Athenian gives Plato's views.

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    hermeneutically followed and quoted ???
    – virmaior
    Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 5:55
  • In my opinion Plato was part of a mechanism, which spied on Socrates and infringed on his privacy. When Socrates said, if he said it, it is not worth living, without being investigated, or something like that, he was probably being sarcastic and spiteful. Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 8:53
  • "It was at Athens, too, that public opinion was convulced, on the eve of the Sicilian Expedition, by the mysterious and ominous mutilation of certain public statues, the 'Hermae', or busts of Hermes. ... Socrates .. left as a maxim the view that 'the unexamined life is not worth living', .. was condemned to die .. by his fellow-citizens; he was also condemned for questioning received astronomy." (ROBERTS; J.M. 1995. The Penguin History of the World, 193. London: Penguin Group, 3rd edition) Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 9:01

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