Theory of forms  

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===Self-criticism=== ===Self-criticism===
-Plato was well aware of the limitations of the theory, as he offered his own criticisms of it in his dialogue [[Parmenides (dialogue)|''Parmenides'']]. There Socrates is portrayed as a young philosopher acting as junior counterfoil to aged Parmenides. To a certain extent it is tongue-in-cheek as the older Socrates will have solutions to some of the problems that are made to puzzle the younger.{{Citation needed|date=March 2008}}+Plato was well aware of the limitations of the theory, as he offered his own criticisms of it in his dialogue [[Parmenides (dialogue)|''Parmenides'']]. There Socrates is portrayed as a young philosopher acting as junior counterfoil to aged Parmenides. To a certain extent it is tongue-in-cheek as the older Socrates will have solutions to some of the problems that are made to puzzle the younger.
-The dialogue does present a very real difficulty with the Theory of Forms, which Plato most likely only viewed as problems for later thought. These criticisms were later emphasized by [[Aristotle]] in rejecting an independently existing world of Forms. It is worth noting that Aristotle was a pupil and then a junior colleague of Plato; it is entirely possible that the presentation of ''Parmenides'' "sets up" for Aristotle; that is, they agreed to disagree.{{Citation needed|date=March 2008}}+The dialogue does present a very real difficulty with the Theory of Forms, which Plato most likely only viewed as problems for later thought. These criticisms were later emphasized by [[Aristotle]] in rejecting an independently existing world of Forms. It is worth noting that Aristotle was a pupil and then a junior colleague of Plato; it is entirely possible that the presentation of ''Parmenides'' "sets up" for Aristotle; that is, they agreed to disagree.
One difficulty lies in the conceptualization of the "participation" of an object in a form (or Form). The young Socrates conceives of his solution to the problem of the universals in another metaphor, which though wonderfully apt, remains to be elucidated: One difficulty lies in the conceptualization of the "participation" of an object in a form (or Form). The young Socrates conceives of his solution to the problem of the universals in another metaphor, which though wonderfully apt, remains to be elucidated:

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"So goodbye to the Platonic Forms. They are teretismata, and have nothing to do with our speech" (Posterior Analytics, Aristotle).

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Plato (left) and Aristotle (right), a detail of The School of Athens, a fresco by Raphael. Aristotle gestures to the earth, representing his belief in knowledge through empirical observation and experience, while holding a copy of his Nicomachean Ethics in his hand. Plato holds his Timaeus and points his index finger to the heavens, representing his belief in The Forms
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Plato (left) and Aristotle (right), a detail of The School of Athens, a fresco by Raphael. Aristotle gestures to the earth, representing his belief in knowledge through empirical observation and experience, while holding a copy of his Nicomachean Ethics in his hand. Plato holds his Timaeus and points his index finger to the heavens, representing his belief in The Forms

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Plato's Theory of Forms asserts that Forms (or Ideas), and not the material world of change known to us through sensation, possess the highest and most fundamental kind of reality. The Forms are the only true objects of study that can provide us with genuine knowledge. Plato spoke of forms (sometimes capitalized in translations: The Forms) in formulating his solution to the problem of universals.

Contents

Criticisms of Platonic Forms

Self-criticism

Plato was well aware of the limitations of the theory, as he offered his own criticisms of it in his dialogue Parmenides. There Socrates is portrayed as a young philosopher acting as junior counterfoil to aged Parmenides. To a certain extent it is tongue-in-cheek as the older Socrates will have solutions to some of the problems that are made to puzzle the younger.

The dialogue does present a very real difficulty with the Theory of Forms, which Plato most likely only viewed as problems for later thought. These criticisms were later emphasized by Aristotle in rejecting an independently existing world of Forms. It is worth noting that Aristotle was a pupil and then a junior colleague of Plato; it is entirely possible that the presentation of Parmenides "sets up" for Aristotle; that is, they agreed to disagree.

One difficulty lies in the conceptualization of the "participation" of an object in a form (or Form). The young Socrates conceives of his solution to the problem of the universals in another metaphor, which though wonderfully apt, remains to be elucidated:

Nay, but the idea may be like the day which is one and the same in many places at once, and yet continuous with itself; in this way each idea may be one and the same in all at the same time.

But exactly how is a Form like the day in being everywhere at once? The solution calls for a distinct form, in which the particular instances, which are not identical to the form, participate; i.e., the form is shared out somehow like the day to many places. The concept of "participate", represented in Greek by more than one word, is as obscure in Greek as it is in English. Plato hypothesized that distinctness meant existence as an independent being, thus opening himself to the famous third man argument of Parmenides, which proves that forms cannot independently exist and be participated.

If universal and particulars – say man or greatness – all exist and are the same then the Form is not one but is multiple. If they are only like each other then they contain a form that is the same and others that are different. Thus if we presume that the Form and a particular are alike then there must be another, or third Form, man or greatness by possession of which they are alike. An infinite regression would then result; that is, an endless series of third men. The ultimate participant, greatness, rendering the entire series great, is missing. Moreover, any Form is not unitary but is composed of infinite parts, none of which is the proper Form.

The young Socrates (some may say the young Plato) did not give up the Theory of Forms over the Third Man but took another tack, that the particulars do not exist as such. Whatever they are, they "mime" the Forms, appearing to be particulars. This is a clear dip into representationalism, that we cannot observe the objects as they are in themselves but only their representations. That view has the weakness that if only the mimes can be observed then the real Forms cannot be known at all and the observer can have no idea of what the representations are supposed to represent or that they are representations.

Socrates' later answer would be that men already know the Forms because they were in the world of Forms before birth. The mimes only recall these Forms to memory. Science would certainly reject the unverifiable and in ancient times investigative men such as Aristotle mistrusted the whole idea. The comedian Aristophanes wrote a play, The Clouds, poking fun of Socrates with his head in the clouds.

Aristotelian criticism

The topic of Aristotle's criticism of Plato's Theory of Forms is a large one and continues to expand. Rather than quote Plato, Aristotle often summarized. Classical commentaries thus recommended Aristotle as an introduction to Plato. As a historian of prior thought, Aristotle was invaluable, however this was secondary to his own dialectic and in some cases he treats purported implications as if Plato had actually mentioned them, or even defended them. In examining Aristotle's criticism of The Forms, it is helpful to understand Aristotle's own hylomorphic forms, by which he intends to salvage much of Plato's theory.

In the summary passage quoted above Plato distinguishes between real and non-real "existing things", where the latter term is used of substance. The figures, which the artificer places in the gold, are not substance, but gold is. Aristotle, stated that for Plato, all things studied by the sciences have Form and asserted that Plato considered only substance to have Form. Uncharitably, this leads him to something like a contradiction: Forms existing as the objects of science, but not-existing as non-substance. Ross objects to this as a mischaracterization of Plato.

Plato did not claim to know where the line between Form and non-Form is to be drawn. As Cornford points out, those things about which the young Socrates (and Plato) asserted "I have often been puzzled about these things" (in reference to Man, Fire and Water), appear as Forms in later works. However, others do not, such as Hair, Mud, Dirt. Of these, Socrates is made to assert, "it would be too absurd to suppose that they have a Form."

Ross also objects to Aristotle's criticism that Form Otherness accounts for the differences between Forms and purportedly leads to contradictory forms: the Not-tall, the Not-beautiful, etc. That particulars participate in a Form is for Aristotle much too vague to permit analysis. By one way in which he unpacks the concept, the Forms would cease to be of one essence due to any multiple participation. As Ross indicates, Plato didn't make that leap from "A is not B" to "A is Not-B." Otherness would only apply to its own particulars and not to those of other Forms. For example, there is no Form Not-Greek, only particulars of Form Otherness that somehow suppress Form Greek.

Regardless of whether Socrates meant the particulars of Otherness yield Not-Greek, Not-tall, Not-beautiful, etc., the particulars would operate specifically rather than generally, each somehow yielding only one exclusion.

Plato had postulated that we know Forms through a remembrance of the soul's past lives and Aristotle's arguments against this treatment of epistemology are compelling. For Plato, particulars somehow do not exist, and, on the face of it, "that which is non-existent cannot be known". See Metaphysics III 3–4.

Dialogues that discuss Forms

The theory is presented in the following dialogues:

  • Meno
    71-81, 85-86: The discovery (or "recollection") of knowledge as latent in the soul, pointing forward to the theory of Forms
  • Cratylus
    389-390: The archetype as used by craftsmen
    439-440: The problem of knowing the Forms.
  • Symposium
    210-211: The archetype of Beauty.
  • Phaedo
    73-80: The theory of recollection restated as knowledge of the Forms in soul before birth in the body.
    109-111: The myth of the afterlife.
  • Republic
    • Book III
      402-403: Education the pursuit of the Forms.
    • Book V
      472-483: Philosophy the love of the Forms. The philosopher-king must rule.
    • Books VI-VII
      500-517: Philosopher-guardians as students of the Beautiful and Just implement archetypical order.
Metaphor of the sun: The sun is to sight as Good is to understanding.
Allegory of the cave: The struggle to understand forms like men in cave guessing at shadows in firelight.
    • Books IX-X
      589-599: The ideal state and its citizens. Extensive treatise covering citizenship, government and society with suggestions for laws imitating the Good, the True, the Just, etc.
  • Phaedrus
    248-250: Reincarnation according to knowledge of the true
    265-266: The unity problem in thought and nature.
  • Parmenides
    129-135: Participatory solution of unity problem. Things partake of archetypal like and unlike, one and many, etc. The nature of the participation (Third man argument). Forms not actually in the thing. The problem of their unknowability.
  • Theaetetus
    184-186: Universals understood by mind and not perceived by senses.
  • Sophist
    246-248: True essence a Form. Effective solution to participation problem.
    251-259: The problem with being as a Form; if it is participatory then non-being must exist and be being.
  • Timaeus
    27-52: The design of the universe, including numbers and physics. Some of its patterns. Definition of matter.
  • Philebus
    14-18: Unity problem: one and many, parts and whole.
  • Seventh Letter
    342-345: The epistemology of Forms. The Seventh Letter is possibly spurious.

Criticism

See also




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