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Plato and Forms

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Platos Forms

By: Anonymous

The influence that Plato, the Greek philosopher born in 427 BC in Athens, has had throughout the history of philosophy has been monumental. Among other things, Plato is known for his exploration of the fundamental problems of natural science, political theory, metaphysics, theology and theory of knowledge; many of his ideas becoming permanent elements in Western thought. The basis of Plato's philosophy is his theory of Ideas, or doctrine of Forms. While the notion of Forms is essential to Plato's philosophy, over years of philosophical study, it has been difficult to understand what these Forms are supposed to be, and the purpose of their existence. When examining Plato's forms and evaluating the theory, some conclusions have proved to be unclear and unanswered. However, the doctrine of Forms is essential to Plato's philosophy. Plato came to his view of the Forms based on two premises: first, that knowledge cannot come through the senses; and second, we do nevertheless manage to know things Ð'- in mathematics, for instance. Plato believed in two worlds; the empirical realm of concrete, familiar objects known through sensory experience, and the rational realm of perfect and eternal Forms. According to Plato, the empirical realm is not real, as sensory objects are not completely real. Beliefs derived from experience of such objects are therefore vague and unreliable, whereas principles of mathematics and philosophy, discovered by inner, rationalistic meditation on the Forms, constitute the only real "knowledge". Such familiar, concrete things as trees, human bodies and animals, which can be known through the senses, are merely shadowy, imperfect copies of their Forms. For every sense object in the empirical world, there is a corresponding perfect Form. These Forms are nonphysical, permanent, eternal, and invisible. How then, you may ask, can one ever know of the Forms if they cannot be known by sense perception? Plato answers this question by stating that the Forms are known in thought. They are the objects of thought, therefore, whenever you are thinking, you are thinking of Forms. An important point to note about the Forms is the idea of permanence. The Forms are forever unchanging. An important standard of Plato's theory of knowledge was that all genuine objects of knowledge be described without contradiction. Therefore, because all objects perceived by sense undergo change, an assertion can be made that such objects at one time will not be true at a later time. Because what is fully real must, for Plato, be fixed, permanent, and unchanging, he identified the real with the ideal realm of "being" as opposed to the empirical world of "becoming". This all leads to Plato's inevitable rejection of empiricism. The true definition of empiricism is, "the view that holds sense perception to be the sole source of human knowledge" (Jones, 369). It is obvious that this view is highly contradictive with Plato's theory of Forms. He thought that propositions derived from sensory experience have, at most, a degree of probability; they are not certain. Pure knowledge may only be derived from certain, permanent facts. The argument is really that not only do the things we perceive change, but so do the circumstances in which we perceive them. Take this example, for instance. If I were to hold a cup of hot coffee in my left hand and a cold beer in my right, and then place both hands into a tub of lukewarm water, that same tub of water would feel cold to the left hand, and warm to the right hand. Moreover, things must often seem different to me than they do to anyone else, for the circumstances of others are rarely the same as mine. We are also liable to experience illusions, states of dreaming and hallucination, and our initial judgments are also often influenced by our expectations and biases. As a result of these circumstances, Plato supposes that we can never gain knowledge through our senses. Empiricism is rejected in Plato's philosophy, contradicting with his theory of Forms to a large degree. Plato conceived the Forms as arranged hierarchically. A dividing line splits the rational realm into "C" and "D". The division of "C" represents the lower Forms, and "D" represents the higher Forms, including the Form of the Good. The Form of the Good is the supreme Form, the highest in the hierarchy, and includes all other forms within it. Everything



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