Plato: Complete Works. v2, 25 May 2008
The complete works of Plato, in a single (very large!) volume.
Plato (approx. 424 BC - 348 BC) was a student of Socrates and, in turn, Aristotle was a student of his. These three philosophers can rightly to be said to have laid the cornerstones of western philosophy, and to have asked many of the fundamental questions that philosophers today are still seeking the answers to.
Plato was not only a great philosopher, but a great author, and his works (especially the early works) can be enjoyed as literature even by those with no interest in philosophy.
Plato's works are conventionally divided into three broad categories: early, middle, and late, although there is considerable disagreement about precisely which works should go into which category. They cover more than 50 years of his writings, and form the basis of the teachings at, the "Academy", the philosophical school which he founded in Athens.
Plato's early works mainly reflect the teachings of his teacher, Socrates, and are almost all in the form of Socratic Dialogues, in which Socrates asks somebody what appears at first glance to be a straightforward question, such as "what is beauty?" or "can virtue be taught?". The person gives an answer, but Socrates, by asking further questions, shows that the person really doesn't know the answer after all. The key feature of the early works is that they never give "the answer" - their purpose is to make the reader think for himself and come to his own conclusions about the subject being asked. These dialogues are beautifully portrayed "dramas" in their own right, and often feature real historical figures. They probably give a reasonably accurate picture of what Socrates (who left no writings of his own) was really like (an astonishingly irritating man to try to have a conversation with!). Several of these works are attacks on the "sophists" - professional teachers of rhetoric who made a living by teaching aristocratic young men who wanted to learn the art of public speaking (an extremely important skill in Athens). Socrates considered the sophists to be completely "amoral" because they taught how to argue anything from both sides, without reference to which was "right" or "wrong".
In the "middle" dialogues, Plato's Socrates actually begins supplying answers to some of the questions he asks, or putting forth positive doctrines. This is generally seen as the first appearance of Plato's own views. What becomes most prominent in the middle dialogues is the idea that knowledge comes of grasping unchanging forms or essences, paired with the attempts to investigate such essences. The immortality of the soul, and specific doctrines about justice, truth, and beauty, begin appearing here. The Symposium and the Republic are considered the centrepieces of Plato's middle period.
In the "late" dialogues, Plato looks more at the "big picture" - how was the world created; what are the ideal characteristics of the good ruler; what laws should the state have, etc. These are difficult and challenging philosophical works, and represent Plato's mature thoughts on the subjects raised in his earlier works. These are not, it must be said, anything like as enjoyable to read as his early works.
The works contained in this book are:
First Alcibiades (*)
Greater Hippias (*)
Pseudonymous works (traditionally attributed to Plato, but considered by virtually all modern authorities not to have been written by him):
(*) The authorship of these works is disputed by some authorities.
There are also a number of essays relating to various aspects of Plato's works.
These are mainly the late 19th century translations of Benjamin Jowett. Each dialog has an introductory essay by Jowett discussing the issues raised in it; these are fascinating to read.
EDIT: 25 May 08
Previously uploaded in two volumes. Recreated the book as a single volume with improved layout. Deleted the old "Volume 2".
Previous download counts (for the separate volumes):
Vol 1: 52
Vol 2: 49