Plato’s theory of forms is based on the belief that the material world is unstable due to its ease of manipulation, and that nonmaterial concepts, or Forms, are the true embodiment of truth. Platonic forms can be found in a variety of life themes, including reality, essence, universal problems, and goodness. This thesis examines Plato’s Forms by concentrating on the above themes. The relationship between a thing and its shape is further explained in the essay.
Plato’s philosophical theory of Forms was first documented in the Phaedo, partly to develop his philosophical ideas and partly to honor his most illustrious teacher, Socrates (Conolly). The Phaedo was one of many collections of Plato where he wrote his dialogues and views on the topic of knowledge, the soul and the reality of life. The ideas would be used to solve political and social problems. One of Plato’s application of the theory of Forms is the concept of truth. Plato explains that the objective of any philosopher is to seek the truth that remains through generations even when the proponent of the idea is dead. A Form is the only way to ensure the posterity of reality as opposed to the transference of material objects from generation to generation. For example, the views of philosophers come from dialogue with like-minded persons who examine various ideas and deduce a conclusion about a scenario or a notion. The truth and facts of philosophy do not come from the physical body but the non-material mind. Therefore, the limiting factors of the body are opposed to the search for eternal truth which makes Plato describe the pursuit of truth through Forms as a form of “training to die” (Conolly). To show that indeed Forms are the only storage unit for the truth, most of the arguments in Phaedo discuss the eternity of the soul after the body dies.
Plato explains the relationship between a thing and its form with numerous example throughout his dialogues and later written accounts in Phaedo. Primarily, every physical object that exists is a perception or an imperfect Form of its real and original idea or Form (Macintosh). For example, philosophers of liberal enlightenment brought about the concepts of mathematics and geometry. The thinkers established first subjects like the shape of various mathematical objects, such as a perfect triangle. The intellectuals had to teach other non-philosophers about the concepts, and the students also learned to draw an ideal triangle. However, each student can only replicate a perfect triangle based on their understanding of the Form of the triangle from the teachings. Therefore, the differences between a well drawn perfect triangle and a poorly drawn one lie in the knowledge of the Form of the triangle. By extension, the difference between people come from the level of understanding and ability to replicate the correct Form in daily life experiences. On a broader perspective, every existing building, car, house, new ventures, as well as any conceivable thing, is an imperfect model of the actual Form which exists in abstract ideas waiting for execution. Therefore, Plato concluded that truth and knowledge only live in people who can understand the reality of Forms as opposed to the imperfect replications of the ideas (Macintosh).
To Plato, Form is more real than any of its duplications. For example, ancient artists like Picasso painted and drew objects of genius due to their deep understanding of art. Over the years, many artists have attempted to emulate Picasso by either drawing original portraits from his inspiration or copying some of his work. However, no artist can replicate any of Picasso’s paintings because they do not have the original idea and Form as formulated in Picasso’s thoughts. Therefore, the form of Mona Lisa is more real than the actual painting. The same applies to a house or any other idea that can be copied and transferred. For example, two contractors can build a house from the same design, but the final products with have elements of difference.
Plato also had compelling arguments about the problems of universal or according to Phaedo, opposite states (Conolly). Plato argues that life and events are cyclical in that everything comes from its opposite state. For example, the world of the dead is dependent upon the world of the living, and the souls of the living are a collection of the souls of those who died. The cyclical existence of things allows for a balanced life to avoid falling on one end of the spectrum. For instance, if death did not balance out being born, then the world would be full of people. In essence, Plato wanted to explain the various events and phenomena of life to the average person.
The Forms of Plato were not only a presentation of philosophy but ideas applied in political and social spheres. Plato did not have a positive approach to the Greek democracy, and his views became more critical after the people voted in favor of the execution of his mentor and teacher, Socrates. After Socrates death, Plato wrote in Phaedo that the government lacked well-informed leaders because they did not comprehend nor possess the Form of goodness (Macintosh).
Plato used one his other publications, Republic, to explain human relation to the reality of Forms by an analogy of people living in a cave titled Allegory of the Cave. A campfire shines and causes shadows on the cave occupants on the walls. Plato wrote that the events and physical objects are like the shadows when compared to the actual and real world of Forms (Macintosh). In fact, Plato used the analogy to make political statements directed to the leaders of the day’s Greek democracy. He said that leaders had to come out of the cave and experience the light to see the reality of Forms and stop being deceived by mere shadows.
The basic premise of Plato’s theory of forms is the assertion that the material world is unreliable due to the ease of manipulation and therefore, nonmaterial ideas known as Forms are the actual embodiment of reality. Plato uses the theory of Forms to explain concepts such as truth, opposites as well as solve some societal and political issues. Plato’s philosophy of Forms was his breakthrough into the world of philosophy following inspiration bt Socrates.
Connolly, Tim. “Plato: Phaedo.” East Stroudsburg University. N.p., 2007. Web.[www.iep.utm.edu/phaedo/]. Retrieved 12 Oct. 2017.
Macintosh, David. “Plato: A Theory Of Forms.” Philosophy Now. N.p., 2012. Web.[philosophynow.org/issues/90/Plato_A_Theory_of_Forms]. Retrieved 12 Oct. 2017.