Plato was born in 429 B. C. As the son of a wealthy nobleman, he turned his back on a political scene, and devoted himself to writing ideas of his master, complimented with his own views in his dialogues. One particular theory he dedicated his time to was the the theory of ‘The forms’. Plato’s theory of forms is strongly based on what is real and what is not. What is real is thought to be perfect, but something cannot be real or perfect if it is always changing. He believed that behind every concept in the visible world, there is an unseen reality, which he calls its Forms. A form is an abstruse property or quality.
The forms may be seen as ideal blueprints for the particular earthly example of beauty and trees, and so on, which Plato called particulars. If you take any property of an object and then separate it from that object and consider it by itself, you are deliberating a form. For example, if you separate the roundness of a tennis ball from its color, power and its weight, etc. and consider just roundness by itself, you are thinking of the from of roundness. Plato reasoned that this property of roundness existed not just in the appearance of a tennis ball, but in a different mode of existence.
Plato believed that therefore all round objects, not just this tennis ball, participate or copy this same form of roundness. The same thing occurs with concepts like equality; we recognise two shapes are being equal because we have some awareness of the Form of Equality. Plato explains that the “World of forms” is very different to the “Visible world”. The “World of forms” can only be properly understood by philosophers and those who seek knowledge, not by the ignorant or those who do not wish to learn the truth.
The theory of forms makes an analysis between those objects that are real and those that are only real in our minds. Plato emphasised that the Forms exist separately from their particulars. The Forms are eternally more real than their particulars, which only ‘appear’ to exist and therefore are very vague reflections of the Forms. The forms are radically different from the visible world in that they are not dependent upon or made of Physical matter. Plato believes that physical matter is inherently illusory and unreliable because it is subject to change.
As the source of all knowledge possible, the Forms must be totally consistent meaning that it is eternal and unchanging, they transcend and go beyond the material. They are therefore immaterial (non-physical) which is why they cannot be detected by the senses but through the soul. Unlike the Forms, the particulars depend on physical matter and are changeable and imperfect. Plato believes that the different Forms are all connected to each other in a fixed order of importance. Most important of all is the Form of the Good, which is central to the existence of the whole universe.
It is the principle of order, which structures the other forms, giving each other Forms, giving each other its own nature. Without this Form, there would be no ideal of beauty or justice etc… According to Plato, knowledge of the Good is the highest knowledge a human is capable of. The ordinary person struggles to see past the illusion of this world because they ware ruled by their senses. Only the philosopher is capable of seeing beyond, because he can make a priori judgements The analogy of “The Cave” relates to the theory of ‘The Forms’ .
Plato used the cave story to explain the importance of questioning everything like a philosopher does in order to distinguish between the unreal physical world and the real spiritual world lit by the sun. The prisoners in the cave are people who just accept everything at face value and never try to understand and ask questions. Their lives are therefore empty and meaningless. The tied prisoners are in an illusory world, what they think is reality, the shadows, is not really reality at all. Plato says that their situation is no different from ours. In Plato’s thinking people do not see the Forms clearly, only the illusory physical world.
The puppets that people carry are also images of the Forms. These images are themselves only imitations or copies of the true reality of the Forms. The prisoner that breaks away and escapes making the tough journey (tough, because this relates to the distress it causes for a philosopher to change someones mind) out of the cave is the philosopher who wants to know what is really going on. In the outside world. As the sun gives life to all things and illuminates them, enabling us to see them for what they are, meaning the Form of the Good gives rise to all knowledge, enabling us to recognise the other Forms.
The Theory of Forms represents Plato’s attempt to advance our expansion for abstract thought. Philosophy was a relatively new invention in Plato’s day, and it competed with mythology, tragedy, and epic poetry as the primary means by which people could make sense of their place in the world. Art and mythology was appealing to our emotions and desires whereas philosophy appeals to the intellect. The Theory of Forms differentiates the abstract world of thought from the world of the senses, where art and mythology operate. Plato said that abstract thought is superior to the world of the senses.
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