Ancient Philosophy: Plato

  • Created by: c.therine
  • Created on: 15-03-20 13:10

The Forms

When you begin to make something you begin with an idea of what it should look like. This led Plato to argue that there must be an ideal form. These forms do not exist in this world, Plato suggests the Real of the Forms. The Forms are spritiual; they are permanent and non-material. Humans long for the permanence of the Forms and are dissatisfied with the transcience of the material world.

Our souls naturally belong in the Realm of the Forms, they are trapped in our bodies and born into the material world. Because of this we have vague memories of the Realm of the Forms and this is why we can remember glimpses of the ideal forms. For Plato, all learning is recollection of the Forms from a previous life. Education draws out what is already in our minds.

For Plato there is:

  • a Realm of the Forms inhabited by spiritual bodies and the true beings in themselves
  • a Realm of Appearances, this world in which things look more or less like the originals in the Realm of the Forms
1 of 5

Hierachy of the Forms

The Realm of the Forms is in all ways superior to the Realm of Appearances - it is a pale refection. Plato assumes that if something is true in the Realm of Appearances, it is more fully true in the Realm of Forms. In the world of objects, we need eyes to see them, and we need light from the Sun so that our eyes can see. In the Realm of the Forms, we need the mind's eye or intellect to appreciate the Forms. The Sun is equivalent to the Form of the Good.

The Form of the Good: the highest form. All other forms have the goodnes of perfection from participating in the Good. The Form of the Good also brings enlightenment to the rational mind.

The Forms, then, are perfect versions of inferior material objects.Plato believs that they must be eternal like our souls.

For Plato, most people won't seek to look beyond trivial things e.g. appreciators of beauty never ask what beauty is in itself. Those who think of meanings in themselves are philosophers. They ask the true versions of things. Because of this, Plato believes the philosophers should be in power.

2 of 5

Analogy of the Cave

Plato asks us to imagine a cave with prisoners chained to the wall. There is a fire behind them, casting shadows of objects onto the wall that they can see, they discuss the objects and guess what they are. A prisoner escapes one day and goes into the real world. He is blinded by the Sun after spending so long in the cave for some time but eventually is able to see the objects in their true form, not just as shadows. He is forced to return to the cave and the prisoners mock him, denying that such a world can exist. They chose not to believe him.

Plato here compares the shadows on the cave wall to objects in the material world, and the prisoners to ignorant humans that refuse to question their surroundings. When the prisoner escapes, he sees the Forms, and the Sun represents the Form of the God, casting light on everything and enabling life. When the prisoner returns there is an obvious comparison between the prisoners and Socrates executioners. 

3 of 5

Aristotle's Objections

We may question whether there can be a single Form of the Good. The term 'good' can be used in many different ways e.g. a good rifle is not morally good because it can be used for harming people.

  • Plato assumes something needs to be pure for it to be eternal. If we consider a quality like whiteness, something can be purely white but only last a few moments.
  • If the Forms are so essential to human understanding, why does nobody study them?
  • The Forms have no practical value. In matters of health there is no 'perfect health'.
  • The idea that theoretical knowledge of something leads to being able to do it is wrong.
  • According to the Platonists, there is not perfect Forms of everything.
4 of 5


  • Plato assumes both that there are things in the Realm of Appearances an that their perfect counterparts are in the Realm of the Forms. He provides no justification for this assumption.
  • Empiricists would object to assumptions that we know anything a priori.
  • No empirical evidence for the Forms.
  • Karl Popper argues that Plato is determined to find a certainty that cannot be found in this world.
  • Various philosophers have drawn attention to Plato's assumption that because we have a name such as 'Good' and 'Beauty', there must be something corresponding to that term in reality. A.J. Ayer refers to this as 'primitive superstition'.
5 of 5


No comments have yet been made

Similar Religious Studies resources:

See all Religious Studies resources »See all Philosophy resources »