Platos Theory of Reality The Forms

Platos theory of reality or theory of Forms or ideals stresses that non-material conceptual forms or ideas rather than the material world of change we know through sensation have the highest and most basic kind of reality. According to Plato, the study of these Forms is the only way we can get genuine knowledge as they are the only true objects that can be studied. Plato used the theory of the Forms in order to solve the problem of Universals. The theory starts from a very simple and irrefutable truth which is that any class of objects has its definition. Plato refers to this definition as the Form of those objects. The most fundamental and straightforward ideas of Forms is that it is what defines an object such that without it, the object would not be an example of the type it is (it is definition) (Lecture on Plato 3).

    In order to further explain what Forms are, Plato differentiated forms from particulars by explaining that particulars are members of a specific class that is defined by forms (Lecture on Plato 7).  There can be variety of particulars for any Form. For example, my fathers automobile or my mobile phone are each a particular. To further differentiate forms from particulars, Plato argued that Forms have six main characteristics that distinguish them from particulars. Forms are aspatial in that they possess no spatial properties (they have no location, orientation or spatial dimensions) ((Lecture on Plato 7). They are outside the normal world as we know it. Forms are also atemporal (Lecture on Plato 8). Forms do not exist within any specific time period. That is to say that a Form is not a thing that temporarily exists. It did not start at a certain time and will not end. It however is not eternal in that it can exist forever (Watt, 14-16). Forms exist outside time. As aspatial and atemporal things, Forms have their location no-where as well as no when hence are non-physical as it is with particulars. Forms are also objective and extramental (Lecture on Plato 9).  This implies that our minds understand them but they are not themselves inside our minds. Forms are objects of our thinking but do not exist in our minds. That is why it is possible for people to think about or look at the same thingsobjects such as triangles, or odd numbers, talk about them, understand each other and all agree. Forms are intelligible (Lecture on Plato 15). This is based on the fact that they are the basis of definition of classes of objects. Definitions (Forms) tell us what things are, or rather what their fundamental characteristics are.  The definition must therefore be meaningful (intelligible) for one to understand what the thing is. As such, Forms are intrinsically intelligible constructs of meaning. The other characteristic of Forms is that they are perfect (Watt, 14-16). When defining a triangle for example, we say that it is a plane figure that is closed consisting of three sides of which each is a straight line. This definition is perfect as it uniquely and completely defines a triangle. If any part of the definition is taken away, the defined object seizes to be a triangle. There is no imperfect definition of a class as this implies that it would not be defining that class at all (Fine 14-21). This is unlike particulars which are all imperfect and only approximates of the forms themselves. This includes humans who are particulars of the Form humanity. Forms are also the archetypes of the real world as well as the particulars that make them up. Forms are ideal, genuine and the perfection of a specific class (Lecture on Plato 16).

    After defining forms, Plato goes on to describe reality in which he uses hierarchical dualism in which he argues that there exist two levels of reality where one level is a higher level while the other is a lower level of reality. According to Plato, the Forms are a higher level of reality than particulars (Lecture on Plato 21). They enable particulars to be though they do not really bring them into existence as it only is the interaction of particulars among themselves that causes them to come onto existence. According to this metaphysical dualism, particulars are real but less real than the Forms which are the higher reality. Forms are therefore more real than particulars.

    Plato uses time as well change to defend this argument. He argues that Forms are more real as they do not change (are atemporal). Particulars are ever changing, a feature that makes them less perfect hence less real (Lecture Notes 21)

    Based on the theory of forms, and using the myth of reincarnation Plato argues that all knowledge is a recollection of what was already known in the Forms (Lecture on Plato 25). He explains that it usually is buried in ones soul and as one lives on and learns, what they actually are doing is recalling what they already knew but had been buried. 

    Plato concludes by arguing that above the Forms is the Good which is the Form of Forms just like a set is a collection of objects. He explains The Good in the Myth of the Cave in which the sun is the Good while the trees, bushes and rocks are forms which are made visible by the sun. The shadows are the particulars which resemble forms but are imperfect epitomes of the Forms as only the Forms, which are the original, are perfect. According to Plato, particulars are inferior to Forms hence less real than Forms.


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