Plato's Theory Of Forms As Reflected In His Writings

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Overtime Plato’s theory has impact many individuals in today’s modern society in the way one reasons about the world. Perhaps one of his most influential contributions to philosophy is the theory of forms. Plato’s theory of forms indicates that the material world isn’t necessarily the true universe rather, there is absolute reality outside our materialistic world. Plato defines forms to be the intellectual, immortal, universal ideas or values that exceed time and space. However, although the forms are abstract, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are not real. These forms are in reality more actual than any single material entity. Throughout his well-known writings from Euthyphro, Meno, Parmenides and Symposium we can further interpret what these forms or ideas are. However, Plato critics his own theory of Forms and is persistently illustrated in one of his writings called Parmenides.

In Plato’s Euthyphro the theory of form is perceived when Socrates insists that Euthyphro begins to counsel him as to what is holy and unholy. Socrates concludes with Euthyphro that there must be one form or principle by which all that is holy is holy and all that is unholy is unholy, in comparison to the holy. Euthyphro says it is holy to prosecute those who commit injustices, and it is unholy not to prosecute them. However, Socrates main problem is with the concept of holiness, which he thinks Euthyphro has still not dispensed with properly. That one would punish those who commit injustices is holy is just an indication of a religious act, and not a concept of holiness itself. For example, Socrates asks Euthyphro whether if gods approve holy deeds because they are holy, or whether they are holy because gods approve them. He goes further on to demonstrate his idea, by appealing the difference between being A and getting A. For instance, something that is being carried is being carried because it gets carried and doesn’t get carried because it is being carried. Socrates therefore, argues that if someone wants to carry it that is, if it is carried, an item may only be in the state of being carried.

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In Meno, Socrates and Meno discuss human virtue by Socrates asking Meno ‘What is virtue? and “Whether or not it can be taught”? Since Socrates denies knowing the nature of virtue, while Meno positively claims to know all about it, Socrates gets Meno to try to define it. Meno’s three interpretations of virtue are: first, instances of virtuous conduct for men, women and children. Second the ability to rule over people is the virtue common to all. Thirdly, virtue is to desire beautiful things and have the power to acquire them. However, Socrates disproves Meno’s claim of virtue because he believes that Meno’s initial claim diminishes different virtues for different kinds of people is conflicting with his implied belief that virtues cannot be different in so far as they are virtues.

These theory of forms in Parmenides are demonstrated as the abstract purpose of describing why objects have the properties they do. Therefore, it is by virtue of being linked in some way to the form of beauty that beautiful things are beautiful, that it is by virtue of sharing the form of size that great things are wonderful, and so on. Essentially to this theory is the assumption that forms are different from the things which share them. For example, when Socrates objects to the theory of forms to Zeno’s argument he begins to speak about the principle of separation that in separation things are like sharing a separate type of similarity and unlike things are unlike sharing a separate form of unlikeness. Although the features of being like and unlike are opposites, they are not contradictories.

The form of Beauty in the Symposium is the rise of the lover of wisdom toward Beauty. In this passage is one of rising simplification in which one’s love for beauty comes to incorporate more and more things. However, essentially one’s love of beauty can only accept one aspect, the nature of beauty, but one must appreciate everything that is beautiful in this nature.

The theory of forms function to solve philosophical difficulties such as metaphysics, epistemology and ethics. Forms in metaphysics are assumed as being the sources of knowledge in the intelligible world. One definition Plato gives for the relationship between intelligible forms and sensitive objects is that a form is a general pattern that has particular different objects. Forms in epistemology include that we can only have true knowledge of complete and unchanging things. We can know the forms but not the material objects. We can only have thoughts or views about the material world. Lastly forms in ethics focuses on pleasure, morality, and happiness. Since virtue and happiness, according to Plato, demand knowledge, Plato’s ethics are devoted from his epistemology.

One problem with the theory that is discussed by Parmenides in the Parmenides is that forms can’t be thoughts because they wouldn’t exist independently and essentially thoughts have real objects which are again the characters. Perhaps Plato has stated that because the forms exist independently of time and space, and it can be assumed that they exist only as thoughts in the minds of the people.

To sum it up, the theory of forms enhances the way one emphasizes the substantial state which is only an image of the true reality and it can be comprehended through some of Plato’s passages that help one understand what theory of forms purpose are.

Works Cited

  • Allen, Reginald. Greek Philosophy Thales to Aristotle. New York, The Free Press, 1991.


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