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『海舌』 the Sea Tongue by Kaisetsu
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Theory of Forms
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Plato 's theory of Forms or theory of Ideas   asserts that non-material abstract (but substantial ) forms (or ideas), and not the material world of change known to us through sensation , possess the highest and most fundamental kind of reality. When used in this sense, the word form is often capitalized. Plato speaks of these entities only through the characters (primarily Socrates) of his dialogues who sometimes suggest that these Forms are the only true objects of study that can provide us with genuine knowledge; thus even apart from the very controversial status of the theory Plato's own views are much in doubt.  Plato spoke of Forms in formulating a possible solution to the problem of universals .
[edit ] Terminology: the Forms and the forms
The English word "form" may be used to translate two distinct concepts with which Plato was concerned―the outward "form" or appearance of something , and "Form" in a new, technical nature, and never
...assumes a form like that of any of the things which enter into her; ... But the forms which enter into and go out of her are the likenesses of real existences modelled after their patterns in a wonderful and inexplicable manner....
The objects that we see, according to Plato , are not real, but literally mimic the real Forms. In the allegory of the cave expressed in Republic , the things we ordinarily perceive in the world are characterized as shadows of the real things, which we do not perceive directly. That which the observer understands when he views the world mimics the archetypes of the many types and properties (that is, of universals ) of things we see all around us.
[edit ] What are the Forms?
The Greek concept of form precedes the attested language and is represented by a number of words mainly having to do with vision: the sight or appearance of a thing. The main words, εἶδος (eidos) and ἰδέα (idea) come from the Indo-European root *weid-, "see". Both words are in the works of Homer , the earliest Greek literature. Equally ancient is μορφή (morphē), "shape", from an obscure root. The φαινόμενα (phainomena), "appearances", from φαίνω (phainō), "shine", Indo-European *bhā-, was a synonym.
These meanings remained the same over the centuries until the beginning of philosophy, when they became equivocal, acquiring additional specialized philosophic meanings. The pre-Socratic philosophers , starting with Thales , noted that appearances change quite a bit and began to ask what the thing changing "really" is. The answer was substance , which stands under the changes and is the actually existing thing being seen. The status of appearances now came into question. What is the form really and how is that related to substance?
Thus, the theory of matter and form (today's hylomorphism ) was born. Starting with at least Plato and possibly germinal in some of the presocratics the forms were considered as being "in" something else, which Plato called nature (phusis). The latter seemed as a "mother" (matter from mater) of substances by receiving (or losing) forms.
But what were the forms? In Plato's dialogues as well as in general speech there is a form for every object or quality in reality: forms of dogs, human beings, mountains, colors, courage, love, and goodness. Form answers the question "what is that?" Plato was going a step further and asking what Form itself is. He supposed that the object was essentially or "really" the Form and that the phenomena were mere shadows mimicking the Form; that is, momentary portrayals of the Form under different circumstances. The problem of universals - how can one thing in general be many things in particular - was solved by presuming that Form was a distinct singular thing but caused plural representations of itself in particular objects. Matter was considered particular in itself.
These Forms are the essences of various objects: they are that without which a thing would not be the kind of thing it is. For example, there are countless tables in the world but the Form of tableness is at the core; it is the essence of all of them. Plato's Socrates held that the world of Forms is separate from our own world (the world of substances) and also is the true basis of reality. Removed from matter, Forms are the most pure of all things. Furthermore, he believed that true knowledge/intelligence is the ability to grasp the world of Forms with one's mind.
A Form is aspatial (outside the world) and atemporal (outside time). Atemporal means that it does not exist within any time period. It did not start, there is no duration in time, and it will not end. It is neither eternal in the sense of existing forever or mortal, of limited duration. It exists outside time altogether. Forms are aspatial in that they have no spatial dimensions, and thus no orientation in space, nor do they even (like the point) have a location. They are non-physical, but they are not in the mind. Forms are extra-mental.
A Form is an objective "blueprint" of perfection. The Forms are perfect themselves because they are unchanging. For example, say we have a triangle drawn on a blackboard. A triangle is a polygon with 3 sides. The triangle as it is on the blackboard is far from perfect. However, it is only the intelligibility of the Form "triangle" that allows us to know the drawing on the chalkboard is a triangle, and the Form "triangle" is perfect and unchanging. It is exactly the same whenever anyone chooses to consider it; however, the time is that of the observer and not of the triangle.
[edit ] The "Intelligible Realm"
Plato often invokes, particularly in the Phaedo , Republic and Phaedrus , poetic language to illustrate the mode in which the Forms are said to exist. Near the end of the Phaedo, for example, Plato describes the world of Forms as a pristine region of the physical universe located above the surface of the Earth (Phd. 109a-111c). In the Phaedrus the Forms are in a "place beyond heaven" (Phdr. 247c ff); and in the Republic the sensible world is contrasted with the intelligible world in the famous allegory of the cave .
It would be a mistake, however, to take Plato's imagery literally. Plato emphasizes that the Forms are not beings which are extended in space (or time), but rather subsist in a more abstract way. Such we read in the Symposium of the Form of Beauty: "It is not anywhere in another thing, as in an animal, or in earth, or in heaven, or in anything else, but itself by itself with itself," (211b). And in the Timaeus Plato writes: "Since these things are so, we must agree that that which keeps its own form unchangingly, which has not been brought into being and is not destroyed, which neither receives into itself anything else from anywhere else, nor itself enters into anything anywhere, is one thing," (52a, emphasis added).
Evidence of Forms
Plato's main evidence for the existence of Forms is intuitive only and is as follows.
[edit ] The argument from human perception
We call both the sky and blue jeans by the same color: Blue. However, clearly a pair of jeans and the sky are not the same color; moreover, the wavelengths of light reflected by the sky at every location and all the millions of blue jeans in every state of fading constantly change, and yet we somehow have an idea of the basic form Blueness as it applies to them. Says Plato: 
But if the very nature of knowledge changes, at the time when the change occurs there will be no knowledge, and, according to this view, there will be no one to know and nothing to be known: but if that which knows and that which is known exist ever, and the beautiful and the good and every other thing also exist, then I do not think that they can resemble a process of flux, as we were just now supposing.
[edit ] The argument from perfection
No one has ever seen a perfect circle, nor a perfectly straight line, yet everyone knows what a circle and a straight line are. Plato utilizes the tool-maker's blueprint as evidence that Forms are real:
... when a man has discovered the instrument which is naturally adapted to each work, he must express this natural form, and not others which he fancies, in the material ....
Perceived circles or lines are not exactly circular or straight, and true circles and lines could never be detected since by definition they are sets of infinitely small points. But if the perfect ones were not real, how could they direct the manufacturer?
[edit ] Criticisms of Platonic Forms
[edit ] 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.[citation needed ]
The dialogue does present a very real difficulty with the Theory of Forms, which was overcome later by Aristotle,[citation needed ] but not without rejecting the independently existing world of Forms. It is debated whether Plato viewed these criticisms as conclusively disproving the Theory 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.
The 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 up 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 the Form and a particular are alike then there must be another, or third, man or greatness by possession of which they are alike. An infinite regression must result (consequently the mathematicians often call the argument the Third Man Regression); 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.