Plato's Theory of Forms


World of Forms

  • Plato is a dualist - the belief that there are two worlds. Plato illustrated this theory in his works Plato's The Republic VII. 514A - 521B.
  • The World of Forms is the perfect world which includes the Form of the Forms or Form of the Good. This world exists outside of time therefore everything in the WOF is unchanging and eternal.
  • E.g. there is a form of a table which doesn't change or evolve - there is only one type of table existing there whereas in the WOS there a different types of tables which will cease to exist at some point.
  • All forms which exist in the World of Shadows descend from the perfect forms in the WOF, which descend from the Form of the Good.
  • In Plato's Allegory of the Cave, the WOF is the world outside of the cave where the prisoner (representation of all philosophers) is exposed to the truth of this world. In this illustration the Form of the Good is represented by the sun.
  • However there have been criticisms of the Form of the Good. They say that there must be a form of the bad which represents forms such as the Holocaust and other horrific events - as well as small things such as mud and excretion.
  • The WOF is also, according to Plato, where our souls originate from. When our souls came to the WOS to interact with our bodies, they forgot all about the WOF. However when we die, or become exposed to the truth, our souls return to the WOF via a painful journey.
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World of Shadows

  • This world is also spoken about in Plato's works, The Republic VIII 514A-521B.
  • The WOS and everything within it, is a imperfect copy of the WOF. All that exists within the WOS descend straight from the perfect version in the WOF.
  • The WOS exists within time therefore everything changes and evolves over time - for every imperfect form there will be a time when it exists and a time where it will cease to exist; compared to the WOF where everything is eternal.
  • In Plato's Allegory of the Cave, the WOS is the cave and everything in it - the shadows projected on the wall are the imperfect copies, the prisoners are chained up therefore they are unable to see the actual product behind them, the truth is hidden from them.
  • Everyone believes the WOS is true reality, mainly because of our senses. We have seen what we know.
  • Plato believes our senses are useless and that is why our soul is stuck in the WOS - once we are exposed to the truth of the WOF, we will no longer use our senses, but our knowledge.
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Theory of Forms: Strengths

  • Explains why we recognise all essential elements; they have bits of Form
  • Helps us understand why imperfections and evils all around us exist. A possible explanation for the problem of evil, as most Christian theodicists' believe the world wasn't created perfect, it's imperfect anyway.
  • Encourages us to question things, not accept them at face value. Requires us to think and gives a purpose to subjects such as philosophy.
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Theory of Forms: Weaknesses

  • Infinite regress of Forms to explain another Form; third-man argument.
  • There is no proof to say we recognise Forms because we existed in the WOF.
  • Possible the Forms are just ideas of the mind, not recollections of the past.
  • Not a logical reason to say there's another world as we cannot see another world at first instance
  • The highest Form is Good; how can we know what goodness is when two people with the same intelligence differ in what they perceive is right or wrong.
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