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(circa 429-347 BCE) Greek philosopher, included here partly because his dialogues Timaeus and its appendix Critias (circa 350 BCE) have been taken as examples of Proto SF in their references to the state of Atlantis and its sinking; he is much more significant to the evolution of Western thought, as it applies in particular to Proto SF, for The Republic (undated, but earlier than Timaeus, which is in a sense its afterword), which describes an ideal state, or Utopia. It is the first literary work to do so in any detail. Plato's importance to the history of utopian thought was absolutely central for more than 2000 years, and must be seen as contributing to the utopian emphasis on an ideal stasis over the constant changes and evolution of the sensual world; this application of Platonic form to social construct was challenged in some nineteenth-century utopias, and of course runs counter to the social ideas of most twentieth-century sf writers. Arthur C Clarke's The City and the Stars (November 1948 Startling as "Against the Fall of Night"; 1953; exp and much rev vt 1956) is effectively an attack on a Platonic utopia. Plato's disapproval of poetry in The Republic is a typical of his proscription, and his remarks on children's games in Book VII of The Laws (a late work) are even better: "... when innovations creep into their games and constant changes are made in them, the children cease to have a sure standard of what is right and proper. The person most highly esteemed by them is the one who introduces new devices in form or colour, or otherwise. There can be no worse evil for a city than this.... Change ... is most dangerous for a city." Nevertheless, Plato was one of the first philosophers to consider, though he argued powerfully against, the idea of change, the idea that the future could be better than the past – an imaginative leap ancestral to the whole of sf.

Another dialogue, The Statesman (360 BCE) includes a brief anticipation of the Time in Reverse theme, with men described as growing younger, dwindling to children and at last vanishing entirely.

Plato's famous metaphor of the cave can be summarized quickly: we are prisoners in a dark cave and take the flickering shadows cast by the firelight on the walls as reality; but the philosopher finds his way into the sunlight and sees that he has hitherto been deceived. It is a metaphor which, literalized as appropriate to the genre, reappears everywhere in sf, especially in stories of Conceptual Breakthrough: [PN]

see also: Sociology; Virtual Reality.


born Athens: circa 429 BCE

died Athens: 347 BCE


There are many editions of the complete works of Plato. We do not presume to recommend one above the others.

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