Plato's Forms

Purpose I intend to show the validity of Plato’s arguments about his theory of Forms. Aristotle, along with others, cross-examines Plato’s proposals. Yet, I happen to see the potential of his point of view and would like to take a deeper look into his theory. The purpose of this paper is to critically analyze the theory of Plato’s Forms from his perspective and that of several others, including Aristotle. Topics The topics in which I will mainly focus on will be Forms as universals, Forms as separate entities (substances), Universe as two realities, and Forms as final causes.

For the most part, the topics are interwoven together yet I will try to separate them in such a fashion as to provide sufficient arguments for each main topic. II. “In View of Plato’s Theory of Forms” Topic #1: Forms as Universals “The essence of [Plato’s] theory of Ideas (Forms) lay in the conscious recognition of the fact that there is a class of entities, for which the best name is probably “universal,” that are entirely different from sensible things” (Allen 18). Plato’s theory of Forms assumed that Forms are universal and exist as substances.

Aristotle firmly disagrees with the idea of Forms being universals. In Scaltsas’ Substances and Universals in Aristotle’s Metaphysics, he defines universals as being “the object of understanding and thought, the object of knowledge, and indeed of scientific knowledge” (33). Plato’s first argument for his idea that Forms are universals uses mathematics and the sciences to explain his theory. According to Plato, science is the ‘body of universal and necessary truths’ (Jones 125). Jones also pointed out Plato’s view that since math is a science, ‘there must be forms to be the objects of mathematical knowledge. “Nothing other than eternal, unchanging forms can qualify to be the objects of scientific knowledge. ” (Jones 125) Plato also described mathematical objects as being universals and separate substances (Cherniss 180). In Nicholas Denyer’s article titled “Plato’s Theory of Stuffs” he claims that Plato’s argument on Forms, as universals, is valid. He believes that Plato’s theory was misinterpreted and he claims that if the Forms were thought of as chemical elements, then everything would make sense.

Denyer uses the example of gold in his ring, stating that the ring is composite while the gold in his ring is incomposite. As for particulars and forms, they are in the same sense respectively. In conclusion, Nicholas claims that “Plato’s theory of forms is not a grotesque misunderstanding of universals; it is a sober, intelligent, and largely true account of the elemental stuffs from which the world is made” (315). In Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Plato claimed that the “elements of the Forms are the elements of all things” which filters in with Denyer’s consideration of Forms being chemical elements (Apostle 24).

Topic #2: Forms as Substances In Aristotle’s Criticism of Plato and the Academy, Heraclitean affirms the existence of Ideas (Forms). In his argument, he refers to Ideas as separated universals. He persuaded that “all sensible things are in constant flux, so that if there is to be knowledge of anything there must be apart from the sensibles some other entities (or substances) which are stable, for there is no knowledge of the things that are in flux” (186).

Many who once believed in the existence of Forms as separate entities did so because they were persuaded by Heraclitean arguments (Cherniss). More support for Plato’s theory that Forms exist as substances can also be found in Cherniss’ novel. It can be assumed that Aristotle thought that the Platonic ideas were meant to have a real existence separate from all phenomena, which is why he criticized the idea in the first place. Plato did not believe that the ‘separate existence’ of the ideas to be an existence in time and place (210).

Plato was convinced that knowledge cannot have as its object the transient sensibles and that, consequently, the “existence of knowledge requires the assumption of permanent entities separate from sensible particulars (Cherniss 211). Professor Ross, a distinguished modern Platonist, recognizes Forms as being a “class of entities,” better known as “universals”, that exist apart from the sensible world and are entirely different from sensible things. He describes Forms as being ‘real entities,’ ‘substances’ (Allen 18).

Arguments Opposed to the Combination of Topic #1 and Topic #2: Forms as Universals and Substances In Studies in Plato’s Metaphysics, Professor Cross argues against the main principle of Plato’s theory of Forms. He denies the view that “Platonic Forms are ‘universals’ which ‘exist timelessly in their own right apart from the sensible world’ as ‘real entities’ or ‘substances’, and are known by a kind of immediate apprehension or ‘knowledge by acquaintance'” (Allen 33). Cross interprets Forms as “logical predicates” instead of substances. We might say,” says Cross, “that a Form, so far from being a ‘substantial entity’, is much more like ‘a formula'” (qtd. on 34). Aristotle also considers the way in which Platonists interpret the idea that separate substances, besides the unstable sensibles, have universal significance. “The result is that the universal substances and the particulars are just about the same entities which in itself is a difficulty of theory” (Cherniss 189). Socrates did not separate the universal as being a separate entity yet Plato did.

Aristotle objects to Plato’s “separation” by claiming that the Forms as substances merely duplicates the particulars to be explained. Aristotle goes on to consider how that the Platonic Ideas have all of the characteristics of their sensible replicas in that “the Ideas the Platonist separates cannot even in thought be abstracted from physical matter”. Also, the Ideas are identical duplicates of the particulars except they are immaterial and indestructible (Cherniss). In view of Aristotle’s conception of substance, it can be said that objects of knowledge are universals but as universals they cannot be separate substances.

Also, there must be eternal substances but as substances they cannot be universals (Cherniss). Topic #3: Universe as Two Realities Plato proposes that there is a world of Forms, which is over and beyond the sensible world. The world of Forms is nonphysical, nonspatial, and nontemporal and this world is referred to as the ‘world of ideai’, which is where Ideas are Forms is interpreted (Jones 123). Plato’s claim is that there is a physical world in which “everything is changing and nothing is ever exactly what it is; it is always becoming something different. Also, there is a ‘world of forms’ in which “everything is always what it is and not another thing” (Jones 126). In The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, there was an article title “Universals”, which discussed several renowned philosophers’ view on the idea of universals. The beginning consisted of Plato’s view in that Forms, as universals, exist separately from particulars and the particulars model the Forms. Instead of using ‘Forms’ as universals, Locke thought of universals as images in the mind while Berkeley considered them as particular ideas.

Aristotle claimed that universals only became present through experience and present in the particular things; therefore, being not Forms. Aristotle proposed that universals exist “independently of human thought but not in their own spiritual realm” (1). St. Augustine sides with Plato on account of the universals because he believed Aristotle’s account places us, as human beings, on the same level as animals. Aristotle rejected Plato’s separation of the universe into two worlds. He claimed that there was only one world, a world of actual things (Jones).

In Jones’ History of Western Philosophy, Plato considered Forms as “separate entities in which the individual particulars of this world obscurely participate” (219). Aristotle differed in that he said Forms were embedded in the particulars. The consequence of Plato’s account, according to Aristotle, was the conclusion that ‘if form is what we know and we assume that it is separate from the space-time world, then it follows that we cannot know the space-time world. ‘ Plato’s Forms to Aristotle are mere abstractions, but certainly not the whole of reality (Jones 219).

Topic #4: Forms as Final Causes In The Development of Plato’s Metaphysics, Forms are considered to be formal and final causes, or “reasons” or “explanations” (Teloh 134). Teloh gives examples of Forms being final causes and describes how Forms, in the Republic, are true objects of love and love strives for true Being. Plato suggests “Justice and Injustice, Good and Evil, Beauty and Ugliness” because people strive in varying degrees for one of each opposite pair (134). The Form ‘the Good’ is seen as having pervasive teleological influence, according to Plato. The Good is the ultimate object of human striving” and is therefore concluded to be a final and not an efficient cause (Teloh 136). Vlastos refutes the idea that Forms are teleological aitiai, or causes (Teloh). He has three arguments against the concept that Forms are final causes. The first is that teleological causes do not exist until they are achieved and Forms do not come into being. Next, he claims that “teleology implies change or motion, hence it is a prerogative of mind or soul, and not the Forms, since they are absolutely immutable (Teloh 135).

Lastly, he tries to explain that in the Phaedo, the existence of Forms is hypothesized after Socrates has already admitted that he himself cannot find the teleological causes. Teloh then refutes Vlastos in saying that the first two reasons he gives for Forms not being teleological causes misunderstand the nature of Plato. Secondly, he claims that Forms are final causes because they always exist, they are unmoved and remain unchanged although they can move other things. “The teleological nature of the Forms is not incompatible with their immutability… thus the Forms are ends and teleological causes” (135).

III. Conclusion Personal Critique I would like to have the time to further my readings of Plato’s theory of Forms. His ideas intrigue me and that is the main reason why I chose this topic for my paper. A lot of my own personal concepts concerning reality, I share with Plato and his view. I believe I tend towards Plato’s view more than Aristotle’s is because I have many things in common with him. According to Jones, Plato was “a perfectionist whose inclination was always toward a utopian solution that was impractical precisely because the perfect is never realized in this world” (218).

Plato was characterized as being ‘otherworldly’ and ‘idealistic’, whereas Aristotle was ‘practical’ and ’empirical’. Also, Plato was bias toward mathematics whereas Aristotle tended toward biology. Plato, as I am, was an idealist and Aristotle was a realist. Even though I do like Plato and I’m attracted to his ideas, I have to ‘get real’ as Aristotle would, and realize that there are many shortcomings in Plato’s arguments. I do see the potential though, just as Nicholas Denyer did in his article, “Plato’s Theory of Stuffs” where he interpreted Forms to be universals only if they were chemical elements.

Plato’s arguments did have some value though but in order for them to stand with the highest merit, they should be revised and refined. There is much relevance for Plato’s theory of Forms in today’s society. Forms were a way in which Plato defined reality and they can still be used in order for others to find a reality for themselves. In looking at Plato’s view, as well as others, it has helped me to see more clearly my concept of reality and the final causes in which I strive for.

Forms exist still today; for example, Justice, Beauty, Equality, Truth, and Goodness. Even though people may not realize it, they are searching for final causes, or Forms. “It is easy to understand why and how the Forms are the ultimate objects of human striving. Since they are unchanging and pure, the Forms provide a type of satisfaction that is unavailable from any other source. Not only are we unable to completely possess them, which fires our desire, but also they endure, unlike lesser things that ultimately fall into nonbeing” (Teloh 134).


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