The primary method of Socratic verbal and Platonic written philosophy, based upon a conversational posing of and response to questions about any given matter or concept. Though at times almost painfully methodical, the presentation of ideas in dialogue form creates at least an impression of increased philosophical legitimacy, since the treatment of a topic (even if fictional) moves forward only with agreement among the multiple participants regarding the argument's prior steps. In contrast to the false art rhetoric, Socrates (and through him Plato) argues dialogue to be the only reliable method of philosophical inquiry. This is so since it takes into account a democracy of multiple perspectives, unlike the dominant tyranny of rhetoric.

Plato often quite cleverly uses the dialogue structure to the great advantage of his various arguments. For example, he frequently has one of the more minor characters in a discussion profusely agree with Socrates's every inquiry, which serves to reinforce the points to which he assents in the mind of the reader. Or again, rather than undercutting the force of his points, Plato uses the disagreement with Socrates of any of the other characters to introduce ever newer perspectives and objections, the subsequent answering of which pushes the dialogue into ever newer territory for consideration. This device presents a perfect opportunity for the advancement of whichever claims Plato desires.

Frame Narrative

A frame narrative is a tale in which a larger story contains, or frames, many other stories. In frame narratives, the frame story functions primarily to create a reason for someone to tell the other stories; the frame story doesn’t usually have much plot of its own. In the Phaedo we receive a second hand-account –Phaedo is telling the story to Echecrates long after the fact –and Plato’s absence at Socrates’ death is explicitly mentioned. In this case, a clear effort is being made to distance Plato, the author, from the story being narrated. 

The Pythagoreans

The Pythagoreans were followers of Pythagoras, the investor of mathematics. Among their beliefs are the worship of numbers, the belief that proper combinations of numbers applied in music can create beautiful harmonies they could “the music of spheres,” and a belief in reincarnation—the idea that after death, the soul migrates into another body and is reborn. 

The Heracliteans

The Heracliteans were followers of the philosopher Heraclitus. Heraclitus maintained that things come to be out of their opposites, and that the balance between opposites is crucial for the existence of order in the universe. He also maintains that everything is in constant flux and that the only constant in the universe is change.


According to Plato, knowledge can only pertain to eternal, unchanging truths. I can know, for instance that two plus two equals four, because this will also be the case. I cannot know, however, that someone is beautiful. For this reason, only the intelligible realm, the realm of the Forms can be the object of knowledge.

Intelligible Realm

Plato divides all of existence up into two parts: the visible realm and the intelligible realm. The intelligible realm cannot be sensed, but only grasped with the intellect. It consists of the Forms. Only the intelligible realm can be the object of knowledge.


The branch of philosophy concerned with knowledge, belief, and thought. Epistemological questions include: What is knowledge? How do we form beliefs based on evidence? Can we know anything?


According to Plato’s metaphysical Theory of Forms, there is an aspect of reality beyond the one which we can see, an aspect of reality even more real than the one we see. This aspect of reality, the intelligible realm, is comprised of unchanging, eternal, absolute entities, which are called “Forms.” These absolute entities—such as Goodness, Beauty, Redness, Sourness, and so on—are the cause of all the objects we experience around us in the visible realm. An apple is red and sweet, for instance, because it participates in the Form of Redness and the Form of Sweetness. A woman is beautiful because she participates in the Form of Beauty. Only the Forms can be objects of knowledge (that is, Forms are the only things we can know about).

Form of Equality

We normally think of equality as a relation that holds between two things. Two equal sticks, for example, are equal not through any intrinsic properties they have, but through their relation to one another. Plato, in advancing Equality as a Form, suggests that Equality is a property in itself that can hold of objects in themselves.

Material Explanation

Primary mode of explanation by Democritus and Empedocles which informed their ideas about the universe works. That is, their explanations explain how matter moves about in the universe and what forces cause change, somewhat similar to our concepts of science. 

Teleological Explanation

Teleological explanations tell us why things are the way they are rather than simply explaining that they are the way there are. 

Plato’s Method of Hypothesis

The idea that if one is having a dispute with someone, the solution is to find a hypothesis that both agree upon, and see what follows from it. 

Essential Properties

Properties without which the thing that has them would be other than it is.

Accidental Properties

Properties that just happen to hold of a thing, but which it could do without.

Popular pages: Phaedo