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PHILOSOPHY 101 1

Platos Theory of Form or Ideas


Change is the only certainty that we, as humans, understand of this vast world. It governs
the seasons and shapes our perspective on time. As a result of this perpetual change of the world,
we are unable to grasp the true and eternal knowledge. In ancient Athens, many Greek philoso-
phers such as, Plato, concurred with this idea and believed that because everything was suscepti-
ble to change, it was impossible for us to find a fulfilling and happy life. Platos Theory of Forms
is one of the most important advancements in philosophy because it illuminated people of the
coexistence between permanence and change. Through this theory, Plato divided the world into
two realms: the material world, which is constantly changing, and the world of forms or ide-
as, which holds the permanent truth.
In the Theory of Forms or Ideas, Plato explains that there is a world of stability beyond our
current world of unpredictability and change. Plato calls this realm, the world of forms or
ideas because it holds the true shape of its counterparts in the material world, which is subject
to change. This world of permanence holds the abstract property of an object. For example, the
roundness of a ball can exist in different modes other than a ball. The form of roundness is inde-
pendent from other properties of the ball. Roundness becomes the true form because any object
can copy this exact property. Similarly, this idea of form is applicable beyond geometrical limits.
Plato believes that any object in the material world has a corresponding form in the world of
permanence. Any conceivable object from chair, apple, horse, man, and more, can have separate-
ly abstract and perfect forms. These forms are unchanging because it can apply independently to
anything. This idea is easily comprehensible because when people try to explain something, they
first mention the general and obvious properties of it. In sum, Plato argues that material objects
are just copies of the perfect form in the abstract and unchanging realm.
Additionally, Plato theorizes that these true and perfect abstract forms serve as the top in
the hierarchy of knowledge and images of the material world are the lowest level of knowledge
in this system. As a result, only those who persevered through a difficult education can compre-
hend the world of Forms. Plato argues that we must be taught how to recall these Forms because
our souls were once within this realm of Forms and Ideas. Through this theory, Plato believes
that only philosopher-kings can become good rulers because they are able to discern the true
form of the material world. Plato continues to illustrate that our senses cause our disillusionment
and inability to perceive beyond the material world. Therefore, we must learn how to recall the
world of Forms and Ideas in order to grasp the permanence in the ever-changing world. Plato
concludes his Theory of Forms or Ideas by establishing that subjectivity in the material world is
defective and only a detachment from these mercurial objects can open us to real value and truth.
If we are unable to comprehend the world of permanence, we will become susceptible to the pain
that change will bring. According to Plato, only objectivity can be the source of truth.