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Theory of Forms Essay

1. a) Explain how Plato’s epistemological assumptions shape his metaphysics (Why does he think that there must be Forms? Hint: Plato says (in effect): “Since knowledge is certain, therefore the objects of knowledge must be unchanging. ”). b) Define Plato’s Forms and present the theory of Forms by explaining the “divided line. ” (You can use the visual image, but explain it. ) Plato was extremely devoted in answering the sophists’ skepticism about reason and morality. To do so, he spent more time than any philosopher before him studying knowledge, or epistemology.

He realized that to answer the sophists’ skepticism he had to first solve the three main problems that earlier philosophers had left behind; the problems of change, the “one” and the “many”, and the problem between appearance and reality. Plato started where Heraclitus, who said that everything is changing, and Parmenides, who said that nothing ever changes, left off. He said that both philosophers were correct in their assumptions, for they were talking about different types of objects.

Heraclitus is correct in terms of the sensible realm; it obviously exists, and is a flux that conforms to the “measures” as he suggested. Parmenides was correct in terms of the intelligible realm. Plato thought that beyond the world of physical objects in space and time is another world that is nonphysical, non-spatial, and non-temporal. He called this the world of ideai, or forms. These forms are nonphysical, non-spatial, non-temporal objects of thought that are more real than anything else. Whenever we are thinking, according to Plato, what we are thinking about is a form.

For example, a triangle drawn on the board in class, no matter how perfect and real it may appear is merely a copy of the form of triangle; a plane figure enclosed by three straight lines. It is like a triangle and looking at it helps us think of the real triangle, but it only relates, or “participates” in Plato’s terms, to its’ true form. This theory applies to the entire sensible realm because everything changes and nothing stays exactly what it is. In the world of forms, however, everything is always what it is and never another thing.

Plato believed that because the world of forms is Parmenidean, or eternal and unchanging, it is therefore possible for us to know it. To explain his theory of forms in depth, Plato used the image of the “divided line”. Take a line and divide it into two unequal parts, one part representing the physical world and one representing the world of forms. Then, subdivide these two parts in the same ratio, creating two sub-parts of the physical world (call them A and B) and two of the world of forms (call them C and D).

Plato says let the first, or lowest, section of the physical world (A) stand for images, such as shadows or reflections. Let the second section of the physical world (B) stand for the actual objects that cast these shadows, like trees, humans, or desks. In the world of forms, Plato continues, let the first section (C) stand for the lower forms, or the forms of the objects in section B. The second section in the world of forms, the highest section of all, (D) then stands for the higher forms, or the science of first principles; the knowledge that, if possessed, would prove the basic assumptions of the special sciences.

Plato believed that the nearer we are to the base of the divided line (A), the more conditioned our knowledge is. We can move up the line through dialectic, a process of questions and answer that utilizes hypothesis, criticism, and revision to move nearer to unconditioned knowledge. The higher we climb via this dialectic, the more we rid ourselves of conditions and the better we grasp the knowledge of the non-material abstract forms (D). According to Plato, these are the forms that possess the highest and most fundamental kind of reality. 2. a) How does the Form Man explain the existence of the many individual men?

b) What is the nature of man and how is the individual man analogous to the state? c) What is virtue or justice in man and in the state? Plato’s theory of Forms led him to many assumptions, one of the most important of which is his view on the form of “man” and his relation to the state. He understood that no one man has ever been perfect and that each man participates in the form “man” to different degrees. Individual men are adequate copies of the true form of “man”. Plato believed that the men who participate in the form more fully are going to more real, and therefore better, then the men who participate less.

This is better explained by his philosophy of the nature of man and his analogous relationship to the state. Plato recognized the nature of man as a psyche, or soul, that was grouped into three main parts. Each of these three parts have motions proper to them that he believed, if harmonized, would lead to eudaimonia, a total well-being. The first, and lowest, part of the soul he called the appetites. The highest part Plato called reason. The third part, between appetite and reason, he called spirit.

He saw the state as having three main parts as well, each corresponding to one of the three parts of the human psyche. Every state needs a governing body, whether kings or congress, so this will be the first part. The second is reserved for the essential producing class, which includes merchants, industrial workers, agriculturists, and so on. Third, Plato held that every state needs a group, between the governing and producing classes, to maintain the state against enemies; this is the guardian group. The analogy relates the producing class to appetite in the individual, the governing class to reason, and the guardians to spirit.

Plato wasn’t just satisfied with this, he wanted to know the virtues of these classes, in other words, he wanted to know what each could contribute best. Like organs in an organism’s body, Plato believed each part of the soul and state have a particular role to play in the whole; they were not discrete and complete in themselves. He thought that the function of the members of the producing class was to provide themselves and the nonproductive classes with the necessities of life, such as food, shelter, and clothing.

He realized that if everybody were to be provided for sufficiently, some of the producers would have to put up with having less than others. They would have to be ready to “restrict one’s own consumption for the sake of achieving some sort of balance in the state as a whole”, thus their virtue is moderation or as Plato called it, temperance (Jones 169). The guardians, who make up the second class, must be courageous when defending the state against its enemies, thus their virtue is courage.

The governors make the highest decisions in the state. They determine war or peace, educational and economic policies, and so on. To make correct decisions they require knowledge; this is their virtue. A state in which each class is performing its function is just state. Only when the rulers are making wise decisions that are executed with courage and loyalty by the guardians, and the rest of the population is exercising some restraint in its pursuit of material well being, will the citizens of the state be happy.

Since the state’s three classes exactly correspond to the three parts of the soul, we are able to understand what Plato took to be their respective virtues. Just like in the state, every individual has producing part that keeps them “alive and active, a rational part that is intended to guide and direct the energy produced by the body, and a spirited part that is intended to help keep the body in order” (Jones 169). Just as the functions of the soul correspond to the state, so do its virtues.

A virtuous man is temperate in satisfying his various appetites and lives a life of reason that is supported by his spirited elements. 3. a) Use the allegory of the cave to illustrate Plato’s political views. In doing so, you should b) explain how the theory of forms supports Plato’s favored form of Aristocracy (to begin with, recall the relation between individual men and the Form of man) and c) explain how the theory of Forms grounds his criticism and rejection of democracy (where in “the cave” are the Athenian democrats?where are they on the divided line? )

As we have seen, Plato uses myths and methods such as the divided line to explain his views on certain things; this is the case, too, with his views on politics. To understand these views we must examine his allegory of the cave. He said to imagine there was men in a dark cave that were chained by their necks and ankles in such a fashion that they could not move their legs or necks and could only see what was in front of them. These men had been in this cave since childhood.

Higher up behind them is a fire that is separated from the prisoners by a sort of puppet-show screen. This fire and screen were used by people carrying various artificial objects, such as figures of men, animals, and other materials, to project the shadows of these objects onto the stone in front of the chained men. It was so dark that these prisoners had no clue they were not alone and if they spoke to each other, they assumed they were speaking with the projected images.

Plato goes on to say, imagine if one of them were set free and forced up the steep ascent into the sunlight. He would realize that what he experienced in the cave was not as real as what actually existed. Nature and the sun would enlighten this man and therefore he would gain true knowledge of the world as it is. Plato reasoned that these men, the ones who make it out of the cave, are the men who should rule the rest. His politics were based on man being a social animal, with desires, not only for sleeping or drinking, but communicating with his fellow men in the community.

Therefore, he thought communal life is good and all other human goods depend on it for any sufficient satisfaction; an individual, who is really part of the larger state, is neither complete nor himself in isolation. If the good life for the individual is possible only by community, then there must be some sort of government to give direction to the numbers of men and women who live and work together. Plato believed that the few who are wise and good should rule the many. As his theory of Forms suggests, all men participate to the form of man to different degrees.

He thought that the few men who participate at the highest levels of the form, the most knowledgeable that have exited the cave and been enlightened, are the ones best for ruling, and doing so rationally; the many are lacking in knowledge and virtue. Plato favored an Aristocracy ruled by these knowledgeable philosopher-kings who would impose the temperance on the producers through selective education and controlled propaganda. Each person, in his view, would find their happiness by playing the part in the state that their degree of participation to the form of man best suited them for.

Plato therefore criticized democracy because instead of philosopher-kings who have true knowledge, the rulers are chosen on irrelevant grounds. The art of ruling, which he thought to determine what is best, became in democracy the art of appealing to the masses with flattery. Plato believed that in a democracy it is impossible to exit the cave or rise to the highest section of the divided line because it is powered by rhetoric. Rhetoric works at the level of opinion and only invokes belief by emotional mean, rather than operating at the level of knowledge, where analyzing the forms allows us to discover the truth.


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