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    An Outline of Plato’s Theory of Forms

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    Plato’s Theory of Forms starts with real material things. He describes how everything we know that is real must eventually decay. Every material object in the empirical world is not permanent. Take a football for example. A football will slowly deflate and when the ball is used it will fall apart more and more until it eventually pops. The football decays and eventually become obsolete when it’s been used enough. Despite the football’s imperfections, we still know that the football exists. We can see and touch the football.

    This means that what we refer to as ‘real’ is also imperfect as opposed to the perfect form which is referred to as ‘universal’. The reality is, no one has ever seen a perfect circle drawn but everyone can picture a perfect circle in their mind. This is known as the perfect form, because the universal exists completely independently from the real object in one’s mind. The reality is, no one has ever seen a perfectly round football, but everyone can picture a perfect football in their mind. This is known as the idealistic form, because the universal exists completely independently from the real object in one’s mind.

    The form of the good is the perfect generic form, the ideal image of an object’s property. The perfect form does not decay, it is a permanent idea. One may consider the perfect form of an object to be non-existent, but Plato would argue that if something is perfect, it must exist. Plato then argues that this may represent the most accurate reality. Every single one of us can picture the ideal form of something, e.g. a football, in our mind even though nobody has ever seen a perfect football. Another phenomenon to contemplate is that the form came before the material version of the idealistic form. Before footballs were invented, there would have been an image of the perfect ball in someone’s mind.

    Therefore, the perfect form is the cause of all that exists in the world. Everything has a perfect form, and therefore the real world is a secondary imitation of the world of forms. The Form of the Good is the ability to know universal objects in our mind. The form of the good is the ultimate universal principal, it’s the cause for all that is created as matter in our universe. There is a hierarchy of forms. In the hierarchy of the forms, there are universals, forms and then empirical things. This is very similar to Plato’s tripartite soul, where Plato compacts down the three sources for motivation in people. He comes out with the tripartite of reason, spirits and desires. Reason is when using skill or something like mathematics to solve problems. Spirits is where one’s courage and passion lie, and desires is where the human’s natural instincts reside.

    The hierarchy of forms has universals, which are the complete ideal objects that exist in our minds. There are then forms which are perfect attributes of objects and then there are empirical objects which are imperfect. The universals can be compared to a human’s reason, because these are both deep in our minds, and are top of the tripartite soul and the hierarchy of forms. The reason and universals are similar because they both represent the ideals, of in this case objects and the human mind.

    Heraclitus once said that ‘No man ever steps in the same river twice’. This can also be directly compared with the Theory of Forms. What Heraclitus meant by this was that the world is constantly changing, and therefore it is impossible to experience the same thing twice. This volatile world is an excellent way to describe the empirical world. The real-world things that are imperfect are rapidly changing. Nothing in our material world is perfect, because nothing in our world can be permanently preserved. Just as no man can step foot in the same river twice, no man can have a perfect object.

    Plato’s theory of forms was devised to solve two problems. The first was The Ethical Problem, how can humans live a fulfilling, happy life? The second was The Problem of Permanence and Change, how can the world appear to be both permanent and changing? Plato said that humans have full access to ideal forms through the mind and that therefore one can have access to a perfect, non-volatile world. This world is completely unaffected by the ongoing events of the empirical world, and therefore is a completely independent world. This means that Plato believed we existed in two worlds, one perfect and the other in- perfect. This solves The Ethical Problem because if a human has access to a perfect and unchanging world, then they can supposedly live a fulfilling and happy life. The two worlds that The Theory of Forms states we live in, therefore solves The Problem of Permanence and Change. The permanent world is the world of forms, and the changing world is the empirical world.

    Plato’s theory of the two different worlds is referred to as dualism. The concept of dualism has strongly influenced the development of mental philosophy. We can compare the difference of the two worlds to the difference between opinion and knowledge. Humans seek knowledge but in reality, we can only have opinions. Plato realised that opinions are frequently mistaken for knowledge. What one person may perceive to be fair, another could perceive to be unfair. These opinions are contradictory, as are the permanent and empirical worlds.

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    An Outline of Plato’s Theory of Forms. (2022, Nov 27). Retrieved from https://artscolumbia.org/an-outline-of-platos-theory-of-forms/

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