Explain the Platonic concept of Forms (25 marks)

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Explain the platonic concept of `Forms`. [25]
Plato, an Athenian philosopher form the 5th
to 4th century BC, developed the concept of Forms, perfect
archetypes for universal qualities such as `Beauty` and `Justice` to explain how we can recognise aspects of things
which cannot be defined but are identifiable in nature. He felt that because the world we inhabit is in a state of
constant change it cannot be real, as the base of reality is truth and truth is an absolute state of being therefore
cannot change. He therefore concluded that the world around us is simply an illusion or ekasia, unreal in
comparison, created by our senses which are deceived by a false reality and are therefore unreliable. This is
reflected in his quote; "How can you prove whether at this moment we are sleeping and all our thoughts are a
dream; or whether we are awake, and talking to one another in the waking state?" Through this he dismisses all
posteriori knowledge as opinion as the physical world can never give us true knowledge which also must be
absolute. Only a philosopher using rationalism to access the realm of true reality, which is unchanging. This reality
Plato hypothesised to be immutable and perfect, the Realm of Forms.
Being a dualist Plato felt that the Realm of Appearances and the Realm of the Forms were two separate principles
but that particulars form the Realm of Appearances could participate in a form. This principle of twoworld
cosmology allows us to recognise concepts such as `Beauty` and `Justice`, as our immortal souls which once
inhabited the metaphysical world have the innate ability to recognise the pale imitation of the forms which they
saw in Realm of the Forms in physical things or ideas, which is known as anamnesia. This can be explained this
further using the premise of a dog. It is almost impossible to describe a dog in a way that differentiates it from say
a cat, physically, however even children can identify which is a dog and which is a cat. Taylor explained it thusly:
"The Form is not a shape, it is in this case a dog and all dogs have a degree of `doginess` due to their participation
in the Form of the dog." In a similar way we can recognise something as `beautiful` because it participates in the
Form of Beauty.
Plato believed that something shaped the physical world which he called the demiurge. Supposedly the
demiurge, the Realm of the Forms and raw chaotic matter have all ways existed. The Realm of the Forms must
have always existed as it is outside of time therefor cannot have been created. The demiurge theoretically crafted
the physical world out of the chaotic matter, using the Forms as templates but due to the matters very nature he
couldn`t replicate the perfection of the forms. Therefor the forms exist in their own right and are infinitively more
real than their particulars.
To quote Ahluwalia, "Plato believed that the forms where interconnected and arranged in a hierarchy. The most
important form is the Form of the Good in which is the ultimate principle." From this we can extrapolate that if a
philosopher could understand the transcendent Form of the Good then he could understand all other universal
qualities which all must be intrinsically good. Therefore knowledge of the good must be the highest knowledge a
human is capable of. This is why he believed that society ought to be run by `philosopherkings` who could
comprehend and apply aspects of the Form of the Good to the physical world.
The hierarchy is exemplified in Plato's allegory of the cave, from his book `The Republic`. It is a series of extended
metaphors comparing prisoners in a cave who have been there as long as they can remember, unable to see
anything but shadows of statues carried on a walkway behind them distorted on the wall, to the plebs of ancient
Athens. He felt like just as the prisoners are trapped by their chains so too are people trapped by their senses in a
world which they too believe to be real, the Realm of Appearances. The cave could also be likened to the body,
trapping the soul and only allowing it to be exposed to the pale imitations of the real world through the light of
the fire, our senses. If a prisoner where to be freed and travel out the cave to the outside world he would find the
sun blinding in its brightness and the `real` world a complete mystery. This is the difficult journey of philosophy,
the outside world being the Realm of Forms and the sun, being that which all life relies on, is the Form of the
Good which all Forms participate in. This prisoner is now a philosopher, who recognises the realm of the forms
and can realise that what he thought was real was ekasia. However should he return to the cave to tell his friends
about what he has discovered no one would believe his seemingly crazy theories of a world which they cannot
imagine let alone accept as the truth. Plato therefore creates a working metaphor for his dualistic theory, the
difference between our perceived real world and the true real world. It also explains the nature between all
universal qualities and the Form of the Good. The Form of the Good gives the other forms definition and sustains
them as the top of a hierarchy.


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