Essay on Plato's Theory of Forms
I believe that Plato`s Theory of Forms is incoherent and contradicts itself in places. There is also no compelling evidence of the Realm of the One exists. I will argue my point below in a balanced argument.
Plato`s Theory of Forms consists of the idea that there are two realms The Realm of the One and the Realm of the Many. He believed that the perfect forms, which are the perfect version of things we see and can touch, are eternal and exist in the realm of the one. They are spiritual, eternal, and unchanging. The Perfect Forms are like perfect templates or patterns, and everything in this world is fashioned after them. This theory explains why we recognize the same essential elements in something. We can all recognize a cat, for example, even though they do not all look the same or even have the same features, and he believes we know this because, in the realm of the one, we have encountered the concept of the Perfect Form of a cat. According to Plato, this world is full of imperfect imitations of the Perfect Forms. Additionally, there are also forms for things such as inanimate objects and for qualities like beauty and justice the forms are perfect examples of different aspects of the world. Forms are also concepts rather than things. He believed that people have immortal souls which have lived in the realm of the one, with the Perfect Forms, before being born into the material world, which is why we can recall what objects are. The most important Form is the Form of Good, which illuminates all other Forms and gives them value. The Form of Good is the source of all other Forms and all other Forms rely on the Form of Good for their existence.
Firstly, Plato`s Theory of Forms makes sense because it would explain why nothing is perfect in this world. This is because Plato argued that perfection only exists in the Realm of the One, which is a spiritual realm in which the Forms are not subject to change because they are spiritual in nature. Plato argues that things are imperfect in this world because they are physical in nature and therefore in a state of change or flux. For example, there would be a Perfect Form of a human in the Realm of the One, which doesn`t change. However, the imperfect imitations of the Perfect Form of a human in the Realm of the Many are in a constant state of flux, as it ages and matures. This, therefore, disagrees with the statement Plato`s Theory of Forms is incoherent because it makes sense as everything is in a state of flux, and that there must be a Perfect Form for objects, animals, people, and other things. I disagree with this argument because I do not believe in the idea of Perfect Forms due to perfectionism being personal and subjective, and so I do not believe that there can be a Perfect Form that includes everyone`s ideals of perfectionism.
However, Empiricists like David Hume did not accept Plato`s Theory of Forms. Empiricists are people who use their senses to navigate their lives rather than their reason. Hume stressed that it is our senses that bring us true knowledge. This means that rather than using reason, we should rely on our surroundings as we can physically see them and interact with them, rather than relying on reason and thought, which we cannot interact with. An example of this would be not believing in an afterlife because we cannot interact with it nor is there any physical evidence that it exists. This would agree with the statement as Plato`s theory of forms is based on reason, and as you cannot interact with the Realm of the One nor is there any evidence that it exists, it is simply not believable to suggest that there is a higher realm with Perfect Forms of imperfect things we can interact with in this world. I agree with this argument because I find it hard to believe that something like this exists without concrete evidence to support it, such as being able to interact with it or see it for myself.
On the other hand, many philosophers would agree with Plato`s idea that we all have an intuitive knowledge of what goodness is, or what justice is. Plato would argue this is because our immortal souls have witnessed the Form of Good and the other Perfect Forms before we were born, and so know what they should be like. This means that we have knowledge before we are even born about values and societal standards that are good and correct on the basis that we have seen the Form of Good, and also the Form of Justice. On this basis, Plato`s Theory of Forms is not incoherent because it can explain why we all have a sense of justice and automatically know what is right or wrong to do in a given situation. I disagree with this argument because I do not believe that everyone has an intuitive knowledge of what goodness is or at least many choose to ignore it and act how they want to, rather than finding a way of doing what is good and kind to others. For example, someone who has grown up in a place filled with crime and war may think that it is ok to fight and kill others when that is not good or kind. I think society has more impact on the idea of what is good, and it really depends on what background you have been brought up in rather than an innate knowledge of what good really means. This part of the theory, for me at least, does not make any sense.
Furthermore, we learn things relatively easily. In Plato`s work, the Meno, Socrates gets an uneducated slave boy to solve a difficult mathematical problem by quick and clever questioning relatively easily, which Plato claims is because the slave boy`s soul had previously gazed upon the Perfect Form of a mathematical problem, and so rather than learning, for the boy, it was a matter of recollection of the information needed to answer the problem. Plato then argued that this proved that we are all born with some innate knowledge as the slave boy would`ve had no formal education, and so shouldn`t have been able to answer the question at all. This disagrees with the statement Plato`s Theory of Forms is incoherent because this story proves that the boy must`ve had some kind of innate knowledge of mathematical problems (and therefore the Perfect Forms) and so could find the answer. I disagree with this argument however because we do not even know whether this is just a story or in fact, something that happened, and so this uncertainty to the validity of the story undermines the overall meaning of the story.
That being said, John Locke has argued that rather than being born with innate knowledge, we are born like a tabula rasa a blank slate. This shows that he thought that rather than being born with innate knowledge about the world around us, we learn everything from scratch. He argues that we may only learn things because we are taught them and because of social conditioning. For example, racism was accepted by the general public in the 1950s, but now we have a society where we are taught that racism is wrong, which shows that society has changed and so have people`s beliefs about it. This proves that Plato`s Theory of Forms is incoherent because as society has changed, so have people`s beliefs about what is right and wrong, rather than just knowing what it means to be good. I agree with this statement because it is easy to see how people`s beliefs and values have changed throughout history, and this proves that not everybody has innate knowledge about what is right and wrong.
Additionally, Plato argued that the physical world is not as real as the world of Forms, but this idea doesn`t convince everyone. Many people have argued that the physical world has a very definite reality, meaning that we can interact with it. Scientists argue that the physical world is worth studying in its own right and can give us valuable insights into the nature of reality and many scientists claim that the physical world is the only reality there is. Richard Dawkins, an atheistic scientist, says, it is nonsense to talk of a transcendent world beyond the physical and continues to say, this world might be changeable, but we can still study it with all the changes and processes, and gain true and valuable knowledge. This suggests that studying the real physical world is more important as we know and can experience its existence. This, therefore, agrees with the statement Plato`s Theory of Forms is incoherent because this argues that the Realm of One is not worth studying to scientists due to the query of its existence, whereas the physical world is because we can experience and experiment on it. I agree with this statement because we cannot study something that we cannot experience or even know whether or not it exists.
Contrary to this, Plato argues that we cannot just rely on our senses as they can trick and deceive us, so we must use our reason instead. Rationalists will agree with Plato. Rationalists are people who use their reason rather than their senses to direct them in their lives. The example Plato uses to show that our senses can trick and deceive us is a straight oar that appears bent in water, which shows that our sight deceives us when this happens as we know that the oar is actually straight. This, therefore, shows that it may well be better to use our reason than just blindly following our senses as they can deceive us. This disagrees with the statement because it shows Plato`s way of thinking was more logical on the basis that your reason is less likely to trick or deceive you, whereas your senses are. I disagree with this because you can use your reason to argue both ways. You can commit crimes thinking you have done the good and right thing to do by using your reasoning, but your senses will most likely tell you that you have done something wrong because it goes against societal norms to commit crimes, and we have an inbuilt emotional reaction to things such as murder and breaking the law.
Finally, Plato believed that the knowledge of the Form of the Good was the highest possible kind of knowledge, underpinning everything else. However, some people argue that it is nonsense to talk as though we all share a concept of goodness. Thinkers, such as A.J Ayer, have argued that when we talk about something being good or bad, we are simply expressing our own emotional reaction to it, and not referring to any actual real knowledge. Our ideas about morality and goodness are subjective, meaning that everyone has different views on them. These ideas are often formed and shaped around the society in which we live, and goodness can vary greatly from person to person. Therefore, it is very hard for people to believe in the existence of the Form of the Good because this is suggesting there is an absolute Form of Goodness itself. For many people, ideas about morality and goodness are simply a product of society and social conditioning which explains why they vary from person to person. I strongly agree with this argument because I believe that our knowledge of what is right and wrong is not innate but rather a product of what we grow up being taught in our society.
In conclusion, I agree with the statement Plato`s Theory of Forms is incoherent because I believe that knowledge doesn`t come from seeing the Perfect Forms before we were born, but rather a product of learning from teachers and parents alike and the society we grew up in majorly impact our thoughts and feelings towards issues such as racism, gender inequality, and ableism. I also don`t believe in the Realm of the One because I do not believe in something I cannot see or experience myself and so for me it doesn`t exist. I also don`t believe that there can be a Perfect Form for anything, especially things such as good or justice because everyone`s views are vastly different and so I do not really understand how there can be a Perfect Form for it if the idea of these is so subjective.
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