- Greek Philosopher (427 -347 BCE)
- Theory of Forms - Key aspects:
- Two worlds, the material world and the world of the forms.
- The material world consists of physical objects and is the world we experience through our senses. World of Appearances. It is in a constant state of change and it is therefore impossible to know the true reality of this world. We can only have opinions about the true reality of this world. We say that it possesses the object of opinion.
- The objects we experince are phenomea or particulars. They are reflections of its perfect form in The World Of The Forms
- The eternal world or World of the Forms is accessed through reason not the five senses. It possesses the object of knowledge. Nothing changes because this world consists of original perfect concepts. Our knowledge is a priori – a recollection of these perfect forms. We recognise when something is not perfect (“Her eyes are too close together !”) because we can remember the original perfect ideal of beauty. In the same way we understand the concept of a perfect circle even if the circle we are looking at is roughly drawn. “Beauty” or “justice” or “equality” or mathematical formulae do not change, but physical representations of them in the material world are not constant.
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- The allegory of the cave makes a contrast between people who mistake the physical world for the truth and those who really do see the truth. They are the philosophers who access the World of the Forms through reason.
- Prisoners chained in a cave can only see a wall in front of them. There is a fire behind them which casts shadows on the wall. People carry objects which provide a sort of shadow puppet show which the prisoners (who know nothing else) assume is all there is to life. The noises they can hear they attribute to the shadows. They even invent a game guessing which shadow will appear next. The prisoners have no philosophical insight – the skill required for the game has no value compared with a genuine understanding of the world outside the cave.
- One prisoner is set free. He finds it difficult to move at first and the light from the fire is dazzling. This illustrates how the first response to philosophical questioning is puzzlement. He wants to return to look at the shadows however he is forced outside which Plato describes as a steep and rough journey. The light outside is painful to his eyes but eventually he can look at the night-time and finally the daytime sky. He is able to see the real world (the World of the Forms) and draw conclusions which are true.
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Plato's Cave cont.
- He begins to understand that the world depends on the sun for its existence, the source of all light, reflections and shadows. The sunlight is representative of true knowledge. Plato calls it the “Form of the Good”. The Form of the Good is the most important and is at the top of the hierarchy of Forms.
- When he returns to the other prisoners he cannot see properly, the cave is so dark. The other prisoners laugh at him saying that his philosophical enquiry has spoiled his sight. They threaten to kill anyone who attempts to set them free. This may be an allusion to the death of Plato’s teacher, Socrates.
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