Reading and Understanding Plato

Once a week in SW London nine women meet to read Plato. None are academics or have a degree in ancient philosophy. Most of us met Plato for the first time when studying philosophy at the School of Economic Science.

How we read

We read aloud, pause to discuss and question, and the aim is not necessarily to understand or become expert in Platonic doctrine but to follow what Plato is saying and to be able to articulate that.  We are learning how to read Plato by following the discipline of listening, reading and rereading until there is some clarity and not moving on until that has happened.  Or, moving on and accepting that Plato is pointing to realms as yet unknown to us. In order to follow Plato we are often forced to look inward and to acknowledge that much of our thinking belongs to the realm of ever-changing opinions which will never lead to truth. The more each of us ceases to place value on opinion, the richer, the more profound, the more fluid and the more exciting the experience of reading Plato becomes.

Joining Plato’s conversation

In many of Plato’s dialogues, Socrates and various people, both Athenians and foreigners meet in a private space—a dining room, a prison cell, a shady river bank.  Here it seems there is all the time in the world for inquiry. Socrates converses with one person and as companions they explore together some philosophic matter. The others present listen, like spectators at a sport, participating without active engagement. For eight years now we have joined in those conversations, listening with interest to the words Plato puts into Socrates’ mouth.  We take part by enlivening them with our own inquiry, our own observations and understanding. The important questions become real and urgent. What is knowledge? What is justice? How can I live a better life?

Plato, as an invisible presence, does not provide answers but he shows how to discourse, through the person of Socrates into whom he breathes life and love of truth. Reading Plato together our conversations have become gentle, non-combative and liberating.

When the mind is turned to what is, the “eye of the soul” is “refreshed and nourished.” Together, turning our minds to truth under Plato’s inspired guidance, we are truly refreshed and nourished.(1)


(1) A paraphrase from Proclus