Plato’s Theory of Forms Review


In his theory, Plato argues that ideas or Forms have a very highly founded degree of reality which is different from the material world we know of, that is susceptible to change. The kind of Form Plato talks about is capitalized and is distinct from the one that is not capitalized. The lowercase Form describes how something appears outwardly, while the Form that Plato is concerned with describes a technical sense that he has newly invented, which he uses to solve universals’ problems.

The Forms

According to (Lloyd 1961), the meanings of Form had been the same for quite a long time before people began to understand philosophy giving Form different meanings, which were philosophic. The early philosophers noted the changes occurring to appearances of what they referred to as substance but wondered of those appearances’ status as well as its relation to substance. This led to the formulation of Forms’ theory, where Plato referred to Forms as nature, which he described as the origin of all substances that lose or receive forms. All objects in the universe possess a particular kind of Form, for example, Forms of mountains, love, dogs, courage, goodness, and human beings, among others. However, Plato tried to explain what Form was so as to solve universals’ problem where it was difficult to understand how one thing would be represented by so many things. Plato argued that the real Form was the object which was mimicked by phenomena portraying it in various circumstances. He also assumed Form to be a different and distinct thing though it became represented in many other objects. The main difference between Forms is each object’s essence which gives meaning to those objects. Plato described our world to be different from that of Forms, where they remain pure when separated from matter. There are also various entities possessed by Form, which are atemporal and aspatial, where the latter means that Form has no specific time of existence since it has neither starting nor ending time. Form neither exists eternally nor has its lifetime limited to a particular time period. Aspatial means that Form is without specific dimensions spatially and cannot be described in terms of location or space occupation. Forms do not also have a physical nature and are as well extra-mental, meaning that they do not stay in human beings’ minds. Forms are also considered as perfect, not being in a position to get altered; for example, one can be able to determine a particular drawing’s shape since he/she understands the Form represented by that shape which cannot be something else whatsoever.

Pure land

The earth, which island where forms exist, can be described to be pure while that lived by us is impure and spoilt. Plato describes this pure land as a place where everything is perfect with colors been brighter than they are in our land. Plants grow in a better way, are healthier, and of a wider variety than those growing in our land. That pure land is wealthier in terms of gems and gold where people are ever healthy and never suffering from diseases we suffer from giving them a longer life than us. Their senses are stronger and more perfect than ours, directly conversing with gods as well as viewing stars in their real Form.

Plato also describes a state that he refers to as ideal possessing ideal Forms. It has Forms that are hard to understand and corresponds to our world which is very corrupted. Plato says that it’s the Good who created that world in the Form’s pattern where he described the Good to be similar to god. Man is therefore supposed to cooperate with the Good in the process of imitation. Plato gives an example of that imitation as Republic where courage, justice as well as temperance among others are imitated but unknown. The reason why they are unknown is their foundation where constitution was received from a lawgiver who was appointed, but those of Athens changed their constitution over time. (Rutenber, 1946)

Form’s Evidence

According to (Proir, 1985), Plato had intuitive as evidence of Forms’ existence which was argued from the perception of human beings point of view as well as that of perfection. From human beings point of view, the argument is based on how we give blue jeans as well as sky color blue. We do this knowing very well that they do not possess a similar color and that the sky reflects different light’s wavelengths at different locations. Also, blue jeans come with different shades, including those of fading, and with all these differences and shades of blue, we still understand their blueness Form. He then argues that this is possible since knowledge used in all these circumstances does not change since its change would mean that people would not be in a position to recognize anything. On the other hand, if knowledge’s nature remains the same with phenomena as well as The Good existing, flux would never be experienced.

When the evidence is explained from perfections point of view, Plato says that blueprint of making tools should be the base of Forms’ reality. He gives an example of a circle and a straight line where he says that their perfect forms have never been seen, although people are able to recognize and differentiate them. He then infers that in situations where one recognizes instruments that are suitable for a particular work, they apply them in their work and not their alternatives. What people perceive as shapes of objects are not as they seem, but he wonders what would be used by manufacturers if perfect shapes were unreal.

Critics of Forms

Plato’s description of Forms has been criticized by both Aristotle as well as Plato himself since he knew of his theory’s limitations. His critics are explained in the Parmenides dialogue where Socrates is viewed as a philosopher who was a junior to old Parmenides. This dialogue showed that the theory had some difficulties of application and that Forms did not exist independently in their own world. It was difficult to understand how an object could be figured in the presence of a form. A solution was given by young Socrates to universals’ problem where he likened Form to a day that is similar and continuous in more than one place at the same time. He argued that, The Form can possess such similarity as well as continuity all the time, which leaves his solution to be criticized. It would not be understood how Form would be likened to the day and be at all places at once. A separate Form is needed to take charge of instances that are different so that the argument of being similar to a day becomes applicable. Plato explained distinctness to represent an independent existence of a thing which led to another argument known as the Third Man arguing that it is not possible to have independent existence as well as participation of Forms. This argument of Third Man goes on to show that when there is existence of universal then it occurs that there are different forms but not one. Their resemblance brings out a similar as well as a different form where similarity of a particular to a Form shows the presence of another of the kind which is considered as Third man possessing some likeness. This process goes on and on to an infinite third man which leads to a conclusion that Forms do not possess uniformity since there are endless parts with neither of them showing a perfect Form. (Brumbaugh, 1964)

(Kahn,1992) states that, Young Socrates took another direction of argument and said that there are no particulars existing but imitations of the real Forms enabling us to apply representationalism in the observation of objects around us. However, his argument was somehow weak since it would not be possible to recognize an object as one would not even have the idea of how a real Form or even its representation looks like. Plato did not hesitate to give an answer to those critics by saying that men recognize Forms as they existed in the same world before they were born. He also says that what is regarded as mimes are their memory of what Forms looked like. Aristotle also criticized The Forms’ theory where he criticized Plato as well as Platonism. He said that it was wrong for Plato to argue that every phenomenon possesses a particular Form since his argument portrays substance as the only that has Form. This brings out a contradiction where Forms are viewed to exist as objects but not non substances. Aristotle was also objected to by Ross, who gave support to Plato’s arguments by saying that what he regards as Form are non substances which include; motion, difference as well as sameness, among others. However, even with Ross’s critics of Aristotle’s argument, it still features greatly as he backs it by saying that Plato didn’t show the difference between what should be considered as Form and that which should not. Another area that was criticized by Aristotle was how Plato used Otherness to show the difference between Forms and how its made to represent non existence which are the likes of Not beautiful among others. Otherness enables objects to possess Forms that distinguish them from others but allow them to represent a particular one. Ross was not left behind where he argued that Plato did not mean to show “what was not what” and that Otherness was used to recognize particular objects and not different forms. He gave an example of non existence of Non Greek but otherness that imitates and lowers the strength of the real Greek.


Therefore Plato holds to the argument that we recognize Forms by remembering what we observed in their world which Aristotle criticizes by saying that according to Plato, there is no existence of particulars which would further infer that what does not exist is unknown. Aristotle argues that in order to understand something, one needs to have known about it before so as to recognize it in the future. He also says that this know-how about universals could be derived from knowledge of one particular where inductive method is applied to show their relation hence recognizing them.


Brumbaugh R. (1964): Plato for the Modern Age: Collier Books pp.33-36.

Kahn C. (1992): Did Plato Write Socratic Dialogues? Oxford University Press pp.10-13.

Lloyd A. (1961): Form and Universal: Francis Cairns pp.24-26.

Prior W. (1985): Unity and development in Plato’s Metaphysics: room Helm Ltd pp.16-18.

Rutenber C. (1946): The Doctrine of the Imitation of God in Plato: Kings crown press pp.15-20.

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