Plato’s Theory of Forms basically states that Forms of objects represent the greatest and most fundamental form of reality and are not simply the objects or materials that people perceive through sensation. Forms are basically the highest level of reality that cannot be understood and defined through merely using the human senses. Instead, one has to grasp the essence of the thing itself in order to understand its form (University of Washington, 2006).
In other words, forms are things or objects of reality that cannot be defined by simply touching, smelling, tasting, seeing, or hearing them, but, as Plato states in his theory, by getting acquainted with them. For example, “A” is lady and “B” is a statue and both A and B are beautiful. Assuming that this is a true statement, it can be deduced that both the woman and the statue share a common property which is beauty. Since they are both beautiful, Plato calls this common property as “beauty itself,” which is different from the individual beauty of the woman and the statue.
In short, as Plato states in this theory, one can only say that “the woman is beautiful” or “the statue is beautiful” if and only if he or she has a prior acquaintance with beauty itself, which they can identify with the woman or the statue. Plato’s theory of forms is basically substantiated by two evidences which are the argument based from human perception and the argument based from perfection. The argument from human perception basically states that one can perceive or describe two objects as being the same or sharing the same property because they have a basic idea of what that property is (Bratman et al. 2006).
The best way to illustrate this argument is the example of the woman and the statue stated above. The argument from perfection, on the other hand, basically states that there exists an ideal or perfect form of an object which serves as the guide or concept for one to perceive or describe something. Although this ideal or perfect form may not be seen, it gives a person an idea of how to describe the property of a certain object (Bratman et al. , 2006). For example, no one has ever drawn or seen a perfect circle or a perfectly straight line.
However, everyone knows what a perfect circle and a perfectly straight line really is. In other words, although the circles and lines that people see are not perfectly circular or perfectly straight, they have an idea of what their ideal forms are because these serve as guides for them when they draw or perceive the circle or the straight line. Furthermore, possibly the best illustration of Plato’s theory of forms is his Allegory of the Cave. In the Allegory of the Cave, Plato tells the story of prisoners in a cave only see the shadows of objects in front of them.
As these shadows move and change form, the prisoners describe them and name them based on their shape or appearance. For example, if the shadow’s shape is like a dog, they would say that they are seeing a dog. Basically, following Plato’s theory of forms, like the perfect circle and the perfectly straight line, the reason that the prisoners are able to name the shadows based on their shapes is because they have an idea of their ideal form. In other words, although they see only shadows, they are still able to name them based on their appearance because they know their true forms.