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Plato’s Philosophy of Religion

The founder of the famous philosophical school – the Academy, the Athenian philosopher Plato, 427-347 BC, created a holistic religious and philosophical teaching about the transcendental divine principle, knowledge of which is the meaning and purpose of a person’s earthly life and a condition for his salvation after death. The religious philosophy of Plato himself and the subsequent Platonic tradition played an essential role in forming Christian dogma. It inspired not only many philosophers and mystics but also theologians. Even in ancient times, the idea was formed that Plato was the predecessor of Christianity before Christ. Even the opinion was born, to which Augustine refers, that Plato, being in Egypt, himself or with the help of a translator, mastered the truths contained in the Pentateuch of Moses, thanks to which he created his doctrine of the all-good and omnipotent Creator of the world.

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Plato’s philosophy laid the foundations for two proofs of the existence of God, deployed in the subsequent tradition – ontological and cosmological. The foundations of the ontological proof, in the classical form formulated, as is commonly believed, by Anselm of Canterbury, can be found in Plato’s dialogues The Republic and Parmenides, where it is a question of the transcendental beginning, which is inconceivable and unknowable and higher than being, but without which being is impossible. The Republic is called the Good, and in the Parmenides – the One. In the dialogue Parmenides, the ontological proof is presented in apophatic, negative form (Plato 2015). The philosopher argues that if the One does not exist, then the other does not exist, and it cannot be thought of either as a single one or as a lot. Thus, if the One does not exist, then nothing exists.

Cosmological proof, associated with the idea that each effect must have its cause, determines the source of the movement of the divine principle. Plato first set forth this proof; later, Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, John of Damascus, and Thomas Aquinas appealed to him. In the dialogue Phaedrus, Plato writes about the existence of a higher immortal source of universal movement. In this dialogue, Plato calls the immortal soul such an eternally moving source of motion.

Plato considered it absurd that everything in the world can exist chaotically, of course, without any reasonable intervention. The material world cannot self-organize by itself – there must be some idea, something that will give the form of this matter, each thing. Plato also offers one of the most common arguments for today, in favor of the existence of God, that all peoples have their gods; in history, there was not a single irreligious tribe. This argument is today referred to as the historical argument. The defenders of Christian theologians often use it.

Plato has a rather complex religious system: a four-stage scheme God – being – becoming – matter. Approximately such a scheme is proposed in almost every study of Platonic philosophy. The problem is that the system is violated in each of the dialogues and some essential points. For example, in Timaeus, where the concept of matter is introduced, there is no question of a transcendental deity – the Good (Plato, Chalcidius, and Waszink 1975); their matter is opposed by Mind – God the Creator, contemplating ideas and creating the universe as a semblance of an intelligible world. In the dialogue Parmenides, God, and matter appear as One and Other, but Other is not a substratum of becoming, not a lining of the sensible world, not a chorus space (Plato 2015). It is transferred to the divine realm itself, where it interacts with the One and ensures the existence of the many – the most intelligible world. In the dialogue Philebus, the universe – all being – is presented as a result of the interaction of limit and limitless (Plato and Hackforth 1972). Both are not accessible to any cognition and are metaphysically transcendental areas – above and below being. Finally, in the Laws (Plato 2015), the divine principle appears as the mind of the World Soul, the intelligent Nature, and the opposing principle of entropy and all materiality – as an irrational component of the World Soul.

At first glance, there is only one general metaphysical scheme: the opposition of the higher principle of unity, simplicity, and certainty to the lower direction of endless fragmentation, otherness, continuum, and chaos. However, many insoluble problems arise Mind and the One, as definitions of deity, for example, are not just different names but concepts that are incompatible within the framework of Platonic philosophy. Perhaps he should be more consistent in his argumentation and try not to contradict himself.

Thus, Plato’s religion is presented in two types:

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  1. the first type is religion as a social institution, necessary for the existence of society, some ideological and educational basis of society,
  2. the second type is the true religion, the religion of ideal essences, which only a philosopher, a true philosopher according to Plato, can see.

The ideas of this great philosopher remain relevant to this day, and they have been constantly reproduced throughout history.

References

Plato, Chalcidius, and Jan Hendrik Waszink. Timaeus. Inst. Warburgiani u.a., 1975.

Plato and Reginald Hackforth. Plato’s Philebus. London: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1972.

Plato. Great Dialogues of Plato. Signet Classics, 2015.

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