From the Foreword:
"The most peculiar and firm principle of all the dialogues of Plato, and of the whole theory of that philosopher, is the knowledge of our own nature, and such pure and genuine knowledge of ourselves, circumscribed in scientific boundaries, must be considered as the most proper principle of all philosophy.
"The design of all that has been said in the First Alcibiades is to purify our dianoëtic part [i.e. our reasoning power] from two-fold ignorance, and to remove all that impedes our resumption of true science. For we are ignorant of ourselves in consequence of being involved in oblivion produced by the realms of generation, and agitated by the tumult of the irrational forms of life. In the mean time, we think that we know many things of which we are ignorant. This dialogue therefore is the beginning of all philosophy, in the same manner as the knowledge of ourselves." (Proclus on the First Alcibiades)
The First Alcibiades makes for the perfect opening to the Platonic dialogues, being somewhat of a preface in itself to the full study of Plato's philosophy. As Taylor notes:
"The First Alcibiades ... may be called, and appears to have been generally considered by the ancients, an introduction to the whole of Plato's philosophy."
This is naturally apparent to any keen student of philosophy who considers the most basic requisites for wisdom. Before one can hope to gain much from the study of Plato, one must have grasped and put into practice the primary purpose of Socrates's initial discourse with Alcibiades. This purpose is summed up perfectly by Proclus in the above quotation. According to Plato, two-fold ignorance is the dreadful state or disease of the multitude, in which we are not only ignorant with respect to the sublimest knowledge, but even ignorant of our own ignorance!
"Two-fold ignorance takes place when a man is ignorant that he is ignorant; and this was the case with Alcibiades in the first part of this dialogue, and is the disease of the multitude." (Taylor)
We must liberate ourselves from this state if we are to even begin the real study of nature and ourselves. We must first admit to ourselves that we do not know that which we do not know, and step out of the delusion that we know that which we do not know.
Once this initial step is taken, we will have moved from "two-fold ignorance" into "simple ignorance," which is the rightful state for the beginning of our study. For "no one would attempt to investigate that which he thinks he knows. It is necessary, therefore, that simple ignorance should be the beginning of investigation. For investigation is a desire of knowledge in things of which we suspect that we are ignorant."
It is thus rather useless to begin a study of the Platonic philosophy if we haven't yet addressed this state of darkness we find ourselves in. And it is this liberation from our two-fold ignorance that is the design of the First Alcibiades. On this basis, we believe the choice to open the study of Plato with this dialogue was a wise choice adopted by Thomas Taylor in his five-volume collection, and would be a wise choice for any student of Plato.
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About the Author
A full collection of his works (original scans, paperbacks and ebooks) can be found online at: http://www.universaltheosophy.com/writings-taylor/
Plato is the most famous of the Greek philosophers. He "was born in the 87th Olympiad, and 430 years before Christ. He also died on his birthday, after having lived exactly 81 years." Plato was a student of Socrates, teacher of Aristotle, and the inspirer of countless "lovers of truth" over the centuries. He was classically educated in Athens, but, like Pythagoras before him, extended his education far beyond this. As with that other great sage, "Plato likewise went into Egypt for the purpose of conversing with the priests of that country, and from them learned whatever pertains to sacred rites. ... he went to Phœnicia, and, meeting with the Magi of that country, he was instructed by them in magic." etc. (see biography by Olympiodorus)
When he return to Athens he established "the Academy", a school whose renown would echo through the ages. There he gathered students and instructed them in philosophy, virtue and all that pertains to the life of a true philosopher.
He wrote many works, almost solely in the form of dialogues, most of which come to us today relatively unspoiled. These were later commented upon by several of the later platonists (neoplatonists). This body of wisdom was then collected, as much as possible, and translated into English by Thomas Taylor, the greatest English Platonist. His translations of Plato can be found here: