Category: Plato in 80 entries

The Theory of Forms

Plato’s response to the Sophists’ moral relativism is the theory of Forms. He claims that beyond the constantly changing sensible reality there are some self-subsistent, changeless and mental entities, the “Forms”. The objects of the sensible world owe their existence and truth to their relationship to the Forms.

Plato grounds his entire interpretation of reality on the theory of Forms. Plato holds sensible data to be completely untrustworthy. He asserts that the sensible world is a constantly changing universe, which lacks stability. Man uses his senses to apprehend this reality, but the senses are by definition subjective and they are sources of deception. If there can be any certainty, this should be sought in thought. Plato’s Forms are the objects of pure thought.

The Forms possess original being, they are apprehended through reason, and are eternal, without beginning and imperishable, unmoving and unchanging. All moral norms are Forms; so are mathematical concepts and entities, as well as natural kinds. Plato holds that sensible objects “participate” in the corresponding Forms and that they “imitate” them. “Participation” and “imitation” are two ways of communication between sensible and non-sensible. Participation is a logical relation, the relation between what is universal and what is particular. Imitation is a hierarchical relation, the relation between original and copy, model and image.

Thus our world is divided. On the one hand there is the chaotic reality of our everyday experiences, with which everybody is familiar. On the other hand there is the constant universe of the eternal Forms. The former is the world of sense-perception and of human opinion (“doxa”) and the latter is the world of reason and of truth. The transition from the former to the latter is the path of philosophy, a path requiring hard effort and proper training.

Author: Vassilis Kalfas
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