The ancient Greek philosopher Plato founded the Academy in Athens – the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Through his dialogues and other writings, Plato conveyed profound ideas that influenced the development of Western philosophy, mathematics, politics, and spirituality. One of Plato’s most significant contributions was his role in shaping Stoicism, a philosophical school focused on living virtuously through reason, ethics, and self-mastery.
Stoicism, with its roots in key concepts espoused by Plato, offers a practical set of principles for leading a meaningful life. By studying Plato’s teachings, we can gain timely wisdom to apply to our modern lives. This article highlights ten key life lessons from Plato that exemplify the core tenets of Stoic philosophy. Implementing these teachings can help us minimize anguish, remain calm amid chaos, find purpose in community, and progress towards the ideal of human flourishing or eudaimonia. Read on to learn essential Platonian wisdom that still rings true over 2000 years later.
1. Pursue Wisdom and Truth Above All Else
Plato believed that the pursuit of wisdom and truth should be the highest aim in life. He felt that through reason, logic, and contemplation, one could discover timeless, universal truths. This contrasts with a life spent chasing fleeting pleasures or material goods. Plato would urge us to spend our days learning, questioning, and expanding our minds. The examined life is the only one worth living.
2. Live a Life of Moderation
Stoics like Plato preach temperance, self-restraint, and moderation in all things. Avoid excess and find balance. Do not overindulge in food, drink, sensual pleasures, wealth, possessions, or other temptations. Excess leads to loss of self-control and makes you dependent on external things for happiness. Moderation provides an inner steadiness and self-sufficiency.
3. Control Your Emotions and Desires
The Stoics believed in maintaining emotional equilibrium by not attaching to extreme highs and lows. Do not let your mood fluctuate with external events. Practice inner calm, level-headedness, and objectivity. Also control impulsive desires and appetites. Direct your will towards virtue rather than chasing unhealthy cravings. Master your emotions and desires, do not become mastered by them.
4. Be Just and Virtuous
Plato felt that the four cardinal virtues were wisdom, courage, moderation, and justice. Aim to live a just, ethical life guided by wisdom and integrity. Treat others fairly and fulfill your role in society virtuously. Justice creates order and harmony. Each person doing their part leads to an optimally functioning whole.
5. Accept What You Cannot Change
The Stoics spoke of fate and predestination. We should accept the things that are beyond our control. Do not waste energy wishing circumstances were different. Instead, focus on what you can control – your thoughts, attitudes, and actions. Adapt and make the best of each situation rather than resisting and struggling against the inevitable.
6. Fulfill Your Civic Duty
As part of ethics, Plato emphasized each person’s social and civic duty. Contribute positively to your community and society. Participate in politics virtuously. Help others and enrich lives. Our good works live on after us. There is no opting out – being born puts moral obligations upon you. Leave the world better than you found it.
7. Care for Your Soul Through Contemplation
Plato believed the soul yearns to understand universal truths and intuit the Ideal Forms through contemplative reflection. Make time for introspection and meditation. Go within through activities like philosophy, prayer, art, journalling, or time in nature. By nourishing your deepest self, you align with your true purpose and experience inner peace.
8. Value Friendships and Community
Plato valued close friendships and believed shared discourse led to self-knowledge. Surround yourself with people whose company uplifts you. Build community and find meaning through selfless contributions towards something bigger than yourself. But beware shallow companions who will corrupt your character.
9. Lead a Simple Life
Stoics live modestly and are not attached to material possessions. Focus on that which is truly important, not superficial distractions. Do not overcomplicate life – simplify. Reject excess, luxury, fame, wealth for their own sake. Be satisfied with meeting your basic needs.
10. Prepare for Death
Plato said philosophy was a preparation for death. Remember that this life is transitory. Do not fear death, accept its inevitability. Live each moment purposefully. Be ready to let go gracefully. What matters is living virtuously and leaving a positive legacy, not clinging desperately to life itself.
Putting Plato’s Teachings into Practice: A Case Study
Martin is a 42-year-old executive at a tech company who stumbled upon Stoic philosophy while researching ways to find more meaning and fulfillment in his busy life. He was intrigued by the practical wisdom in the teachings of Plato and other Stoic philosophers and wanted to put these ideas into practice.
After learning about the 10 key life lessons outlined in this article, Martin decided to incorporate more of Plato’s teachings into his daily routine over the course of 3 months. Here is what he focused on and how it impacted his life:
- He started each morning by journaling about universal truths and pondering philosophical questions. This helped set his mind on wisdom rather than getting swept up in the daily grind.
- He became more mindful of excess in his life. Martin scaled back on lavish expenditures, unnecessary possessions, rich foods, alcohol, and other indulgences. This increased his self-discipline.
- Trying to remain calm and even-keeled no matter what challenges arose during the day gave Martin greater resilience.
- He reminded himself daily to focus only on what he could control and let go of the rest. This reduced his stress levels.
- Martin volunteered locally and got more involved with community initiatives. His sense of purpose was renewed.
- He also prioritized time for contemplation through meditation, reading philosophy, and spending time in nature—this nourished Martin’s soul.
After 3 months of integrating Plato’s teachings, Martin reports feeling more fulfilled, empowered, and aligned with his values. The principles of Stoicism gave him tools to minimize anguish and fortify his character. While not easy, Martin found great reward in practicing Plato’s ancient wisdom in the modern world.
- Seek truth and wisdom as your primary goal in life. Question and expand your mind through learning.
- Practice self-control and balance. Avoid overindulgence and excess.
- Master your emotions and desires. Remain calm and rational.
- Behave ethically and contribute to society.
- Accept the unchangeable without resistance. Focus your energy wisely.
- Participate positively in your community and fulfill civic obligations.
- Feed your soul through contemplation and introspection.
- Surround yourself with virtuous friends who enrich your character.
- Adopt a simple lifestyle, reject materialism and superficiality.
- Do not fear death, live fully and leave a legacy.
Through his exploration of Stoicism, the ancient Greek philosopher Plato provided timeless wisdom on living a meaningful and virtuous life. The principles he espoused emphasize pursuing truth, practicing moderation, controlling emotions, behaving ethically, accepting fate, finding purpose through community, feeding the soul, rejecting excess, and being mindful of mortality. Implementing even a few of these teachings thoughtfully can enrich our character and bring us closer to eudaimonia – the Stoic ideal of human flourishing.