Platonism and Platonists (followers of Platonism ) are terms that are used in different meanings. In a narrower, more historically shaped sense is meant by the doctrine of Platonism ancient Greek philosophers Plato and Platonists, the ancient philosophers, who confessed to this doctrine. In a broader sense are called Platonists also medieval and modern philosophers who have only a few essential elements of Plato's doctrine adopted or share some beliefs with Plato. In the broadest, purely systematic sense, the term is now used for all Platonism philosophical doctrines that have a certain core feature of Plato's philosophy together, even if they are otherwise very different from her. This characteristic is defined differently and then applies as may be defined as constitutive for the Platonism.

As a Platonist, not only professional philosophers are called, but also poets, theologians and other intellectuals whose philosophy has significant similarities with concepts of Platonism.

For a systematic presentation of the contents of Plato's doctrine → Main article Plato


The ancients understood by a " Platonist " a philosopher who had received training at the Academy founded by Plato or any other Platonic school of philosophy in general and specifically conceived themselves as followers of Plato.

Modern research divides these ancient Platonism in stages: Senior Academy ( from Plato to Crates of Athens) and younger Academy (of Arcesilaus to Philo of Larissa ), Mittelplatonismus and Neoplatonism. It is sometimes also differed between age, Middle and New Academy. Even in ancient times, there was such historical divisions, which was also arranging counted ( " first " through " fifth" Academy ).

The Platonists made ​​a point to represent the original doctrine of Plato, and claimed thereby to put only their own accents. However, the spectrum of opinions was wide within the Platonism, and some Platonists did not hesitate to modify even central to the teaching of Plato or even give up. So already turned Plato's nephew and successor as head of the Academy, Speusippus, of Plato's theory of ideas from. The younger Academy was marked by skepticism ( " academic skepticism " ), leading to the abandonment of ontological doctrinal statements - a core part of Platonism - led. The school, founded by Antiochus of Ascalon, the programmatic " Old Academy " called himself, and thus acted as heir to the authentic Platonism was, under the influence of Stoicism on the Platonic doctrine of transcendence.

In the Middle and Neo-Platonism, however, there was a return to Plato. The Central and Neoplatonists were wont in all material respects consistent to profess his teaching. Many of them worshiped him and celebrated his birthday as a holiday. Usually they did not change the doctrine of Plato, but only interpret and defend against the views of other schools of philosophy. In this narrower sense of the term a devout Jew or Christian could not be a Platonist, since this Platonism also a " pagan " religious dimension had ( still trying Synesius a synthesis).

An " academic" was understood often specifically a follower of the skepticism of the younger academy. Therefore, the terms " Platonist " and " academics " did not always have the same meaning, even though the Academy was the school of Plato.

Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages there was of course no Platonist in the above narrow sense more. If medieval philosophers ( and also ancient Christians like Augustine or Boethius ) are called " Platonists ", making it only meant that they were in certain aspects of their thinking influenced by Plato. In the Middle Ages such influence was done mostly in an indirect way, especially on Augustine, since at that time in the Latin -speaking West, only a very small part of the works of Plato known (until the mid-12th century at all, only dialogue Timaeus, and not even complete). Many Platonic influenced medieval thinkers not framed on a Platonist; they often did not even know that or to what extent their ideas eventually went back to Plato. There were plenty of transitions and compromise solutions between Platonic and nichtplatonischem thinking. Therefore, it is often not possible in individual cases to decide whether a thinker is to be called a Platonist, or the decision is somewhat arbitrary. At this Platonism in the broadest sense of the term is expected a large part of the medieval and early modern philosophy. It is primarily concerned with the following Platonic doctrines:

  • The idea of ​​teaching. As a Platonist in this sense, all who thought that the designated by general concepts ideas play an autonomous existence independent of the particular things apply. These thinkers called Universalienrealisten or short realists (as opposed to the nominalist ).
  • The doctrine of the soul. The Platonists believed that the person would be the immortal soul, which only inhabits the body and controls " as a sailor, the ship ", ie only connected externally with him. The Aristotelians, however (especially Thomas Aquinas ) stressed that the soul of a particular body and only moderately associated with his nature was as its shape and " perfection ", ie fancy the nature of a unity with him.
  • The Neoplatonic doctrine of emanation. For Christians the world and man were created directly by an act of God. Under Neoplatonic influence but wanted some, so to understand that world and living things in a stepwise process ( emanation ) have emerged from God.

Early Modern Times

In the 15th century Platonism with Georgios Gemistos Plethon experienced a renaissance in the Byzantine East. At the same time were previously placed in the west of unknown works by Plato in Greek manuscripts to Italy and translated into Latin. Some humanists, especially Marsilio Ficino in Florence in the Renaissance, were enthusiastic about Plato and his teaching. Platonism was perceived as opposed to the scholastic Aristotelianism, and they quarreled over whether Plato or Aristotle fees of priority. Although the original texts of Plato were now available rates, the humanistic Platonist primarily to the Neoplatonism.

In the 17th century, the Cambridge Platonists, an influential group of philosophers and theologians at the University of Cambridge appear, one for a Neoplatonic embossed Christian Platonism to ward atheist and mechanistic doctrines.

Modern Philosophy

By Alfred North Whitehead comes the saying, the whole of Western philosophy consists of " footnotes to Plato ."

In many modern contexts, but not the term " Platonism " on the figure of Plato, but only to a whatever kind of metaphysical realism of concepts or universals ( see main article universals ). Since these "realistic" positions (" universals " ) have a more or less distant resemblance to Plato's theory of ideas or their respective interpretation, they are called " Platonism ", because the idea of ​​teaching as a major component of Plato's philosophy known.

Usually one distinguishes between the following positions in the debates:

  • " Platonism ": the variants of the thesis There are abstract and immutable objects that also exist independently of our minds and not in space and time, are not part of the physical world and not causally interact with physical objects. These include, for example, mathematical objects (numbers, classes), properties, and propositions ( the ideal, independent of languages ​​and speakers levels of linguistic sentences ). Representatives are for example: respect to propositions and their components: Gottlob Frege, David Kaplan, Saul Kripke, John Perry, Scott Soames
  • About Numbers: Gottlob Frege, Kurt Godel, Hilary Putnam
  • Regarding possible worlds: Alvin Plantinga and Roderick Chisholm. Consider possible worlds as abstract objects, in contrast to David Kellogg Lewis, who treats them as concrete objects. After a certain interpretation of Wittgenstein of the Tractatus agrees with these theorists: The world is everything that is the case is read as a possible or actual world is a maximal consistent set of propositions such that each proposition p or its complement element this amount.
  • The diversity of definitions of " Platonism " can be illustrated with reference to a variant with a particularly wide scope term: Willard Van Orman Quine called " Platonism " each ontology, which includes " abstract entities ". To abstract entities in this sense include, for example, also classes.
  • David Malet Armstrong characterizes its own ontology as a counter-position to the " Platonic realism"; it is anti - platonic at least in the sense that it for him - unlike for Plato - is no separation of particulars and universals; he seems at this point rather Aristotle to be close to ( depending on how you interpret his theory of Forms ); as Armstrong nevertheless keeps a real existence of universals is necessary, it is called Armstrong's position, as well as that of Quine, Penelope Maddy and, quite often " naturalized Platonism " or " immanent realism".
  • Fictionalism with respect to mathematical entities; Thesis: phrases like " Three is a prime number " must be analyzed so that they speak of abstract objects; but as it is not this, the sentences are, strictly speaking, wrong.

Stegmüller investigated in his work The phenomenalism and its difficulties is the function of the word and makes a classification, which leads to a definition of " Platonism ". He goes three ways of interpreting the predicative is from:

  • That represents a dependent language symbol that occurs in sentences like in sentence fragments. Sentence fragments are open sets with individual variables, which can be completed in two different ways to form meaningful statements for themselves: replacement of variables by an individuals name, or prefixed by one or all there is ( nominalistic interpretation )
  • The occurring in predications predicate expressions are class names, and that is suppressed accordingly the element classes ratio of ( extensional Platonism )
  • Predicates are property names, and this is accordingly expresses the relation between a thing and the property in a predication, which has this thing ( intensional Platonism ).


Like any philosophical doctrine has also Platonism its critics. This involves the following points:

  • The Platonic constitutional theory is criticized as anti-democratic and totalitarian. This position was made ​​clear in The Open Society and Its Enemies, Karl Popper.
  • The Platonic doctrine of ideas is criticized by the nominalist or conceptualist point of view: For the nominalist and conceptualist General terms refer not an independent reality, but is in the mind; they are just conventions for the purpose of linguistic communication. Real are only specific individual things.