The Forms

by Regina Kauzlarich, April 2015

1800 words

6 pages


In his vast body of work Plato allotted a core place for the theory of knowledge. Being left with the legacy of his predecessors Plato gave a new interpretation to their views (pre-Socratic philosophers claimed that true reality is material; to follow that up the Sophists believed that material order is all there is to the reality, and because things always were in constant change and, therefore, all knowledge is relative; finally, Parmenides’ argument that reality is One and there is no movement at all). However, what is especially valuable about his work is that he managed to systematize his writings to the extent where his point seemed to be complete which no philosopher before him succeeded in. Naturally his theory left a lot of questions unanswered but at the same time it offered significant implications and built a solid base for the Western philosophical thought for many generations of thinkers to come.

Before discussing Plato’s arguments for the reality of intelligible Forms it is necessary to consider what these Forms actually are. To begin with, the concept of form is derived from Pythagorean mathematics where it meant a certain limit imposed upon some boundless matter. For the Milesians form was a derivative of number and shape combination but Plato elevated this concept to the level of universals. To him Forms were “changeless, eternal, and nonmaterial essences or patterns of which the actual visible objects we see are only poor copies”. Forms are ideals or transcendental standards relying on which we make our judgments and develop our opinions.

One of the most cited examples is with the concept of beauty and the attempt to explain the nature of its existence. According to Plato beauty is the first quality that we recognize in other people, this is our first judgment and first opinion about them. However, looking at different people and objects our idea of beauty will differ, meaning, therefore, that the standard of this beauty is not found anywhere visible, it should be somewhere else. At such premise Plato arrives at the conclusion that there is Beauty – a timeless standard that has more being than things of the perishable world, thus, again resolving that it is the intelligible world that is truly real taking into account the qualities mentioned above.

This approach is very coherent and logical; moreover, it presents a strong argument in favor of the future theories of value, norm and standard crucial to the evaluation of art, making aesthetic choices and defining what is morally appropriate and what is not. Nonetheless, Plato does not state anywhere how many Forms there are, in other words, if there is a Form to every object or phenomenon signified by a noun because if there were, it would mean that according to Plato there is another, duplicate world. However, the philosopher did not seem to imply that. His theory was rather a hook for further discussions as well as a subject for rethinking which will be dwelled upon later in the essay.

Even though …

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