OCR support material – Plato


Suggested teaching time 10 hours Topic Ancient Greek influences on religious philosophy
Topic outline Suggested teaching and homework activities Suggested resources Points to note
Introduction to philosophy of religion
  • Introduce the module by discussing why people believe in God and where belief might come from. Introduce key words: reason and revelation.
  • Explain that these terms may be seen as summaries of the Greek and Judeo-Christian view respectively.
  • Explore the idea of the Philosopher; what images does the word bring to mind? Explain that Philosophers use arguments. Define key terms such as argument and proof.
  • The Monty Python argument sketch (or the philosophers’ football match) may bring light relief!
  • The letters in Chapter 1 of Sophie’s World may also provide an interesting alternative on the subject of what is Philosophy.
Plato: the Analogy of the Cave

Knowledge and understanding of what might be represented in the Analogy of the Cave

  • Introduce the Analogy of the Cave. Invite students to consider how the prisoner would feel at each point of the journey.
  • Main points provided through card sorting exercise. First putting elements of the story into order; then matching aspects of story to symbolic meaning.
  • Sketches of the cave can be easily obtained from the internet; it may be helpful if the image were put onto OHT or the                    interactive whiteboard.
  • Students could be shown a clip of a film such as The Matrix or The Truman Show where “reality” is questioned.
Discuss critically the validity of the points being made in the analogy
  • Explain different interpretations of the cave and the implications of the allegory for Plato’s epistemology, metaphysics, ethics and politics.
  • Discussion: Is Plato successful? Build up a list of strengths and weaknesses.
  • More able students may be able to engage with the text (The Republic 514A-521B).
Plato: the concept of the Forms; the Form of the Good
  • Stimulus: Give students pictures of several different chairs (or other items). What do they have in common? Follow up with pictures of beautiful things (a model, a painting, a sunset). What is beauty itself?
  • Explain Plato’s answer that they share in the ideal standard, the form of idea. These are more real than our world of the senses.
  • The Philosophy Files by Stephen Law has an excellent chapter (“What is Real?”) explaining the Forms.
The relation between concepts and phenomena

The relation between the Form of the Good and the other Forms

  • Explain that the Form is the opposite of the Particular. Give words that describe Particulars and invite students to suggest words for the Forms.
  • What do the perfect Forms have in common with each other? Introduce the notion of the Good.
  • Plato responds to Heraclitus’ idea that everything (in this world) changes. Students may wish to discuss whether we really can step into the same river twice.
Discuss critically the validity of the Forms
  • Paired activity: Students use library books, handouts or the internet to come up with the strengths and weaknesses of the Forms.
  • Students could then use these to produce a model answer or a Socratic dialogue exploring the coherence of the Forms.
  • Foundations for the Study of Religion (Ahluwalia)
  • The Exploring Ethics pack (Hayward, Jones and Mason) has a couple of humorous examples of Socratic dialogues.
Aristotle: ideas about cause and purpose in relation to God

Aristotle’s understanding of material, efficient, formal and final cause

  • The relationship between Plato and Aristotle; Aristotle rebels against his teacher. Show a picture of Plato and Aristotle – what is the significance of their hand gestures? Invite students to think of and draw an object (eg a statue of a singer or footballer). What causes it to be as it is? How does it change? Relate the four causes to this object.
  • Painting by Raphael “The school of Athens”. Covered in The Thinker’s Guide to God (Vardy & Arliss)
  • Foundations for the Study of Religion (Ahluwalia)
  • In the painting, Plato is pointing upwards as if to say “the truth is out there”. Aristotle points towards the ground. As an empiricist he asserts that the truth is found in this world of the senses.
  • Consolidate by getting students to apply causes to other objects. Why do you think that Aristotle is interested in this question?
Aristotle’s concept of the Prime Mover
  • Link cause to the Prime Mover. What is the explanation of the universe as a whole?
  • Split students into two groups evaluating either the ideas on cause or the Prime Mover. Each group reports back.
  • Foundations for the Study of Religion (Ahluwalia)
  • The Thinker’s Guide to God (Peter Vardy & Julie Arliss)
  • Consider how both Plato and Aristotle have been influential, particularly to Christianity.








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