Essay Answers- Plato’s Theory of Forms

Plato had many philosophies but the main one was his theory of forms, which we sometimes refer to as the theory of ideas. Plato’s Forms are not mental entities, nor even mind-dependent. They are independently existing entities whose existence and nature are graspable only by the mind, even though they do not depend on being so grasped in order to exist.  He believed that as well as the world that we live in and experience, which is a material world, there is another eternal world of concepts or forms.  This eternal world is more real than the world, which we experience through the senses and it the object of knowledge not opinion.  The world of sense experience has constant change, and this was a popular topic in philosophy as there is no truth or evidence that the world never stays the same from one moment to the next.  Plato believed that that the answer was that there is certain truth, but this material world cannot reveal it.  It can only present appearances, which lead us to form opinions, rather than knowledge.  The truth is to be found on a different plane, in the non-material world of ideas or forms.  Plato believed that if something was real, it had to permanent and unchanging. He thought that reality and perfect.  When the Socrates asked him complex questions such as ‘what is beauty?’ or ‘what is justice?’ he was not trying to find a good definition of the words but was asking about the nature or essence of these qualities, which he believed had a kind of universal existence or a reality of their own.  When we call something beautiful, it is because we have an innate knowledge of beauty or the form of beauty, but we don’t actually know what it is and therefore can’t judge.  When we see examples of justice, we recognise them because we recognise them as we see that they reflect the nature of True Justice or the form of Justice.  The beauty or justice that we see in society around us is always imperfect, as even though we have never seen perfect justice or beauty we know what they are according to Plato, because we have knowledge, which is kind of a recollection.

   We have some kind of understanding of the Forms as for example we know that a chair should have four legs but it might be different from another chair which also has the same form but is better as it might be more comfortable. We are all moulds of the same form.  We can say to each other ‘ her nose is too big’ and know that this means that she falls short of true beauty, which we understand as a concept even though we have never seen a perfect example of it, as no one is perfect.  According to Plato’s thinking, because we have concepts of the ideal forms and are told, without having experienced them, our souls must have known the forms before we were born.  This then leads him to the idea that people must have immortal souls.  Plato also argued that when we use words and apply them to particular objects, we make reference to the world of Forms.  Plato believed that when we use words such as ‘dog’ to describe the particular animal we see, we are not just classifying it.  We are referring to a particular essence or quality that it shares with animals that are also described as ‘dog’; they all share something of the Form of the Cat.  Plato went further than this and also claimed that in the world of Forms, there is an ideal dog, created by God.  The dogs that we see walking on leads with their owners in our daily lives are inferior instances of this Ideal Dog.  They are constantly changing, they are born and then they die, but the Ideal Dog is eternal, depending on nothing for its existence, and it’s not the object of opinion, but knowledge.  

  The theory of the Forms can be quite complicated to comprehend but another way to understand it is to consider them mathematically.  For example a circle is a round two-dimensional figure made up of an infinite series of points, all the same distance from a given centre and all the angles usually add up to 360°.  This is not a matter of opinion, but something that we know, and have been told.  No one has ever actually seen a perfect circle, they have just seen imperfect copies and reasonable approximations of a perfect circle.  A perfect circle, as well as any other shape has not been seen; the infinite points which make up its circumference do not take up any space, they just exist in logic rather than in a physical form.  Even if someone tries to draw it with the most sophisticated computerised equipment, it becomes imperfect.  People do know what a circle is though, even though the Ideal Form of a circle has never been seen and never could be seen.  They can define it and understand that it can’t be translated into the material world without losing its perfection.  For Plato, the form of a Circle exists, but not in the physical world of space and time.  It exists as a changeless object in the world of Forms or Ideas, which can only be known by reason, and in order to find out the reason you need to question.  Forms have a greater reality than objects in the physical both because of their perfection and unchangingness, and because they are models.  As ideals, they give ordinary physical objects whatever reality they have, because of the ways in which the physical objects resemble the Forms, just like the shadows in the Allegory of the cave, in the way that they only had any kind of existence because of their resemblance to their corresponding physical objects.  Shapes with circularity, squareness and triangularity demonstrate what Plato meant by the Forms.  An object, which exists in the physical world may be called a circle or a square or a triangle only to the extent that it resembles the form ‘circularity’ or ‘squareness’ or ‘triangularity’.  

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  He believed that the forms were interconnected and arranged in a hierarchy.  He believed that the most important Form is the Form of the Good, which is the principle.  The Good illuminates the other Forms like the sun in the Allegory of the Cave.  The sun also represents knowledge and energy, which the world needs to live on in order to complete the seven life processes.  We can see that justice for example is an aspect of Goodness and we know that we have never seen with our senses any examples of perfect goodness, but we have plenty of ...

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