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Sorin Sabou

Letter to the Romans, Nicomachean Ethics, and more

Plato's theory of forms

A General Overview
Plato’s theory of forms has several fundamental points of view: the difference between reality and appearance, and between knowledge and opinion. These points of view are related in that knowledge is at the level of reality, and opinion at the level of appearance. 
Reality and knowledge are about Ideas or Forms. These are made by God, they are eternal and do not change. And appearance and opinion is about the world of the senses that is temporary and does change.
Plato works with the examples of bed and tables. ‘There are beds and tables in the world, but there are only two ideas or forms of them - one the idea of a bed, the other of a table’ (Plato, Republic, Book X). When someone makes a bed or a table he is not the maker of these ideas themselves, because ‘the maker of the image knows nothing of true existence; he knows appearances only’ (Plato, Republic, Book X). This relationship between the real world and the world of the senses is described in terms of ‘imitation.’
The real world, the world of the forms, is apprehended by our intellect. The imitation of the real world is the world of the senses and is apprehended by our senses; the first is about pure ideas and the second is a ‘confused vision’ (Russell, 2009).

Critical Assessment
It seems that this theory is imposed on whatever there is around us; in his overall endeavor to defend his sentenced master he conceived the ideal world, and understood our world in light of it. In this way there is knowledge, and not everything is opinion (see the Sophists). We cannot make that type of distinction between knowledge and opinion, and intellect and senses. The unity of understanding/perception/interaction with everything around us cannot be dissected in this way. 


Plato. The Republic. tr. Benjamin Jowett. http://classics.mit.edu//Plato/republic.html
Russell, B. History of Western Philosophy. London and New York, Routlege. 2009.
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