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E.) is, by any reckoning, one of the most dazzling writers in the Western literary tradition and one of the most penetrating, wide-ranging, and influential authors in the history of philosophy.But he was so self-conscious about how philosophy should be conceived, and what its scope and ambitions properly are, and he so transformed the intellectual currents with which he grappled, that the subject of philosophy, as it is often conceived—a rigorous and systematic examination of ethical, political, metaphysical, and epistemological issues, armed with a distinctive method—can be called his invention.In a few of Plato's works, we are told that the soul always retains the ability to recollect what it once grasped of the forms, when it was disembodied prior to its possessor's birth (see especially ).But in many of Plato's writings, it is asserted or assumed that true philosophers—those who recognize how important it is to distinguish the one (the one thing that goodness is, or virtue is, or courage is) from the many (the many things that are called good or virtuous or courageous )—are in a position to become ethically superior to unenlightened human beings, because of the greater degree of insight they can acquire.However, it must be added that in some of his works the speakers display little or no character.See, for example, of his dialogues (though not all), Plato is not only attempting to draw his readers into a discussion, but is also commenting on the social milieu that he is depicting, and criticizing the character and ways of life of his interlocutors.
(At any rate, that is true of a large number of Plato's interlocutors.
For example, the forms are sometimes described as hypotheses (see for example ).
When one compares Plato with some of the other philosophers who are often ranked with him—Aristotle, Aquinas, and Kant, for example—he can be recognized to be far more exploratory, incompletely systematic, elusive, and playful than they.
All of Plato's works are in some way meant to leave further work for their readers, but among the ones that most conspicuously fall into this category are: .
There is another feature of Plato's writings that makes him distinctive among the great philosophers and colors our experience of him as an author.To understand which things are good and why they are good (and if we are not interested in such questions, how can we become good? Although these propositions are often identified by Plato's readers as forming a large part of the core of his philosophy, many of his greatest admirers and most careful students point out that few, if any, of his writings can accurately be described as mere advocacy of a cut-and-dried group of propositions.