Aristotle's Critique of Plato's Forms


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Aristotle was both a pupil and critique of Plato. He found the theory of the Forms deeply
1. The problem of the third man
If we take a `man' as an example, Plato argues that all men partake in the Form of the Man
which allows them to share similar qualities. If we are to take Plato seriously as to the
relationship between qualities, the common quality must also be due to another entity that
they all partake in. We can call this other quality `the third man'. So now, with the Forms and
particulars we have also introduced a new element. However, the problem does not stop
there as when we look at these three elements, the reason they relate to each other is
because they share something unidentifiable in common; we require a `fourth man' to tie
them together. We then become stuck in infinite regress.
- Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron are all `human'
- There must be a Form of `Human' which these humans participate in
- These three men are alike because they are human and part of the Form of human. We now
have a set of things that are human; Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and the Form
of Human.
- We now need a new Form of `Human' to account for all these human things together,
INCLUDING the Form of Human. This could be `super-humaness'
- Now we have five things that are all human; `super-humaness', `human', Tony Blair, Gordon
Brown and David Cameron.
- This process goes on forever and we are stuck in infinite regress.
2. There is not one universal Form of the Good. ­ Even if there was a Form of Good there is
no practical advantage of contemplating it. Plato fails to distinguish between the theoretical
and practical knowledge. He assumes the former automatically leads to the latter, but there
is no evidence to suggest that because we know the Form of Good we are able to use it.
- Just because I know what a doctor does and I have a good knowledge of medicine, does
not mean that I will have the skills to be a good doctor and start curing patients.


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