Evaluation and Significance
Plato's importance in his own time and for centuries to come is beyond dispute. He went beyond Socrates, his teacher, in developing a system of knowledge that includes every area of philosophy. His ideas about the Forms — and the different faculties to know realities — the soul, his political doctrines, and art are well-argued philosophies.
It may be that no greater praise has been given to a philosopher than that which the American philosopher Alfred North Whitehead (1861–1947) bestowed on Plato. “The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato,” Whitehead said.
In addition, Plato would influence two millennia of rationalists who, like him, viewed reason as the primary means to understanding reality. Plato's student Aristotle took a different philosophical turn. An empiricist and naturalist whose philosophical grounding was in biology, Aristotle opposed Plato's doctrine of the Forms. With such different orientations, the two were bound to clash fundamentally over the issues of what exists (metaphysics) and how we know it (epistemology).