In Plato’s “Phaedo” Socrates considers questions of causation and what reasons we can give for things being the way they are. He considers that he might be “completely blinded in my soul by looking at objects with my eyes and trying to lay hold of them with each of my senses. ” It seems he begins to postulate theories in search of some explanation as to why things are the way they are and not just material explanations of how things are. He says he will do this by “Hypothesizing the theory I judge strongest”, here it seems this is his theory of forms.
Socrates requires Cebes to accept the existence of entities by “Hypothesizing that a beautiful, itself by itself is something, and so are a good and a large and all the rest. ” From this he explains that these forms are the true reasons for things being how they are since if an object is beautiful then it is so for no reason other than that it participates in the form of beauty. People in the visible world explain beauty in terms of reference to colours and shapes but he considers the simple fundamental explanation for beauty to lie in the form itself.
He considers this explanation to be “The safest answer to give to both myself and to another. ” Here Socrates exemplifies how the forms are used to clarify things which appear initially to be contradictory. He uses the example of one man who is taller than another man by a head and suggests he is taller by virtue of his participating in the Form of Tallness. However he states the alternative explanation would be that the man is taller “by a head. He says that this explanation cannot be accepted since the shorter man would also be shorter “by a head,” and so the same explanation would be given for two opposite states of existence. Socrates’ theory however assigns a different cause for each state, explaining the taller man’s being taller by the “Form of Tallness” the shorter man’s being shorter by the “Form of Shortness. ” He states that it would be problematic to say that the cause of a man’s being taller is something short.
He then considers the problem of the apparent contradiction that one and one can make two at the same time that one divided by two can make two. Again he uses forms to explain this saying the reason for this does not lie in division or addition but simply in “participation in twoness” It seems from both these examples that Plato postulates a realm of forms so that the philosophers who understand this intelligible realm can be said to have knowledge which is clear unlike everyone else whom he refers to as “contradiction-mongers”.
It seems that he is keen to emphasise that the philosopher’s love of truth is what sets him apart since he claims of other people that “Their wisdom enables them to mix everything up together yet still be pleased with themselves, but if you really are a philosopher, you would, I imagine, do as I say. ” A further reason for postulating forms seems to be in defence of his assertion that the soul is immortal. He explains that forms cannot admit their opposites so for example tallness itself cannot come into being out of the shortness.
He differentiates between accidental and essential properties. In terms of the souls immortality he explains that life is an essential property of the soul whereas its existence within a body is accidental meaning the soul can exist without it. Also it cannot possibly admit of death since it is opposite of life, so therefore he concludes a soul cannot die. Perhaps the key reason for postulating Forms lies in Plato’s distinction between knowledge and true beliefs.
Upon the basis of this distinction Plato can arrive at his assertion in ‘The Republic’ that “Philosopher Kings” can be considered the only people fit to rule in society. He considers the forms to be unchanging, eternal, absolute entities and hence he claims they are the only things which can be considered objects of knowledge. According to his example of “The Line” there are four stages of cognition, the first is imagination whereby a person considers images and reflections to be real, the second is belief .
According to Plato belief is “Something between ignorance and knowledge. ” He considers that we cannot gain knowledge through the use of our senses, he refers to these things which we perceive in such a way as “Sensible particulars”; these are all things which undergo change over time as oppose to the unchanging eternal forms in the visible realm. Belief therefore is when a man takes sensible particulars to be the most real things.
We cannot therefore rely on beliefs people hold to be true since as Plato explains “One who holds a true belief without intelligence is just like a blind man who happens to take the right road”. The third and fourth stages of cognition exist only in the intelligible realm, here we can think and know things. Understanding, according to Plato can come about once the “Form of good” has been grasped, since that is the highest and most important form, those who understand can be said to possess knowledge of the perfectly real.
Plato describes philosophers as “Those whose passion it is to see the truth”. From this he explains that it is philosophers therefore who will seek above others to grasp the “Form of good” and this puts them in a position to be truly just. Since only a truly just person should be allowed to run a society, if that society wishes to operate in a just manner, then Plato can conclude that it is a “Philosopher King” who is fit to rule. He states “The order of our commonwealth will be perfectly regulated only when it is watched over by a guardian who does possess this knowledge. It seems Plato’s use of the forms to clarify contradictions is useful to an extent since it provides a valid starting point from which he can argue for the soul’s immortality, however, it seems, particularly in ‘Phaedo’ that he does not really argue for the forms but rather assumes them as means of further understanding his own assertions. He still seems to risk creating confusion since it is difficult to grasp the idea of an absolute form such as largeness when ‘large’ is generally treated as a relative term.
His attempts to argue for “Philosopher Kings” can be deemed problematic since the question arises as to who has the potential capacity to know, he does not explain whether anyone can potentially be a philosopher or if it is possible only for an exclusive group of people. Whilst the postulation of forms aids Plato’s illustration of ideas, it seems further justification is required to accept them as valid causal explanations.