Ancient Philosophical Influences


Ancient Philosophical Influences

  • Plato’s Theory of the Forms

  • Allegory of the Cave: There are prisoners trapped in a cave, and there is a wall between them and a burning fire. Men walk behind the wall and shadows appear on the cave in front of the prisoners - they’re led to believe that the shadows are real things. One prisoner breaks free, and has a painful journey into the sunlight, which burns his eyes. Returns to tell the prisoners about what he found, but they don’t believe him - put prisoner to death (reference to Socrates, killed for encouraging people to think for themselves).

  • Shadows: illusions of reality.

  • Cave: limits of knowledge.

  • Outside: the truth, world of the forms.

  • Sun: form of good.

  • Other prisoners: refusal to be enlightened.

  • Point of the allegory: Two types of knowledge; empiricism and a priori, demonstrates contrast between people reliant solely on empirical knowledge and those who use rational knowledge to see the truth. Shows how empirical knowledge is flawed.

  • Explains importance of questioning everything; looking beyond the physical world.

  • The Forms: Every object and concept has a form.

  • The Forms are a perfect ideal of an object. They are changeless, perfect and transcending while we live in an imperfect world. Forms are fixed truths. It isn’t a shape, it is the concept/essence of something.

  • The world of the Forms is spiritual and superior to our world.

  • Form of Good: Some forms are greater than others. Good = most important form, Form of the Forms. Good illuminates everything else (represented by sun in allegory). Once you understand good, you’ll understand things like justice and beauty.

  • We have existed before in the world of the Forms which is why we can identify objects and concepts in this world. Our soul lived in the world of the Forms before being trapped in a body.

  • It is a teleological concept of the world - everything in nature tends towards a certain end - Form of Good. It is a dualist perspective - there are two worlds. Also absolutist, it’s true for all places and all time.

  • Criticisms: No proof. Argues that our world is not as ‘real’ but people argue that the world has a very definite reality.

  • It is hard to accept that there is a perfect idea of negative qualities like Jealousy or Spite, and that trivial things have an ideal form, eg what makes a ‘perfect’ chair?

  • But Plato himself was ambiguous about whether there is a form for literally everything, plus he focused on Forms of qualities and many philosophers agree we have an intuitive knowledge of goodness.

  • Is there a form for every variation in a species? Where do inventions come from? Surely we would know every invention already having lived in the world of the Forms.

  • Aristotle argued that there cannot be a Form of Good because goodness always relates to specific actions, situations and people, there can’t be Goodness Itself, not in relation to anything. Morality cannot be