Plato & the Forms



Quotes & Notes

The Analogy of the Cave

Below: The physical world: concrete and “visible” (sensible)

Images (e.g., visual appearances) that we see are like mere shadows, mere images of physical things.

Physical things themselves are just imitations of the Forms or Ideals  which are the Real things;  like puppets are imitations of various people and animals.   (Individual people are human in virtue of their approximation to the Human Type, their imitation of the human form; etc.)

The physical sun lights the physical world and makes it visible, like the fire lights the cave.

Above: The Ideal World: abstract & intelligible

The Various Forms or Intellectual Objects: e.g., the Man; the Cat; etc.

The Good: the source of intellectual illumination and of  the very being and reality of all the other Forms.

1.        "The prison dwelling corresponds to the region revealed to us through the sense of sight, and the fire-light within it to the power of the Sun.  The upward journey you may take as standing for the upward journey of the soul into the region of the intelligible.  . . .  In the world of knowledge the last thing to be perceived is the essential
Form of Goodness.  Once it is perceived, the conclusion must follow that, for all things,k this is the cause of whatever it right and good; in the visible world it gives birth to light and to the lord of light, while it is itself sovereign in the intelligible world, and the parent of intelligence and truth."

2.        "And so with the objects of knowledge: these derive from the Good not only their power of being known, but their very being and reality."


The Forms Themselves: Eternal

Ideal Abstract Individuals or Universals

that are the Real Essences of physical things

The Good is the source and sustenance of the various Ideals

physical things: temporary

concrete particulars

"participate in" or "resemble" or "imitate" the Forms

Epistemology: degrees of intelligence

imagination: only apprehends images -- mere appearances of physical things

belief: grasps at the ever-changing procession of "real" physical phenomena. 

understanding: reasons hypothetically, as in geometry.

reason: intellectual apprehension of the Forms themselves.




Blech: e.g., being a shoe or a ship or sealing wax.


Blecht = being a cabbage or a king.


Etc.: For every possible collection  of things – no matter how motley -- there is a possible name, and hence an actual universal. 

What's Hot: Universals

Construed as properties that general words -- "man", "good", etc. -- express, makes headway with problems of the possibilities of communication & knowledge. (1)

Near solution to problem of change.

What's Not

Characterization of Intellectual Insight with Recollection & Associated Mystical Claptrap

Denigration of the reality of the physical: the contrariety argument won't hunt.

What's Problematic

the "bottomless pit of nonsense" or "ontological slum" worry: there's an embarrassment of forms

all the various shades of colors

forms of mud, dirt, etc.

blech, blecht, . . . ?

Real essentiality: not all forms seem created equal in this: the Touchdown v. the Tiger.

Prototypes v. Universals

Independence of the Existence of the Forms

Participation - Resemblance - Imitation

How can Forms resemble physical things?

The "third man" argument.


1.        T]he problem of universals, in various forms, has persisted to the present day.  . . .  The absolute minimum that remains, even in the view of those most hostile to Plato, is this: that we cannot express ourselves [without] general words such as "man," "dog," "cat,"; or, if not these, then relational words such as "similar," "before," and so on.  Such words are not meaningless noises, and it is difficult to see how they can have meaning if the world consists entirely of particular things, such as are designated by proper names. (126-7)

2.        If appearance really appears, it is not nothing, and is therefore part of reality. (129)

3.        When an individual partakes of an idea, the individual and the idea are similar; therefore there will have to be another idea, embracing both the particulars and the original idea.  And there will have to be yet another, embracing the particulars and the two ideas, and so on ad infinitum. (128)