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 explains that the “World of forms” is very different to the “World of appearances”. 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 a distinction between those objects that are real and those that are only real in our minds.
His dialogues (e. g. Parable of the cave) portray knowledge as the process of leaving the cave and going into the sunlight. The people in the cave find their reality in the shadows cast in the cave and assume there can never be anything beyond these shadows. These shadows are used to convey that the world that we see is just a shadow or reflection of what is real. For Plato, the real world is not what we see around us, it is only the “World of forms” that is real and unchanging.
Plato believed that what is perceived as knowledge in this world was in fact only opinion and true knowledge rests only in the world of forms. Knowledge is seen to be something that can be known by senses but if all to see in this world are constantly changing shadows then they are not the truth but the constant, unchanging and eternal concepts in the world of forms do not have this problem of contradiction, Plato explained knowledge as eternal and immutable this means the changing world couldn’t hold knowledge with the eternal one could.
Plato describes the forms as independently existing entities whose existence and nature are graspable only by the mind, even though they do not depend on being grasped in order to exist. Plato said that souls come from the world of forms which is why 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 an understanding gained as a recollection of our souls experience in the world of forms. Plato believed that although all forms were perfect there was a hierarchy within them with the form of goodness being at the top, such as the sun in the ‘allegory of the cave’ which shined over everything and allowed the prisoner new information.
The form of goodness allows all the other forms to be understood and be valued. We are said to participate in the form but it isn’t something that Plato gave detail or description on, this has become one of the argument and reasons why some people have rejected the theory. Aristotle gave another argument against the theory as the ideal of man would hold traits of man and would therefore have to have a perfect form on which it is based as would that being. This idea could be back traced continuously and is used to show that each concept would have to have a concept on which it itself was based.