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Theory of the Forms

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Theory of the Forms and the Sensible World
This paper will discuss the relationship between the knowledge of the forms and opinion about the sensible world. After describing the sensible world, Socrates brings up a new concept about how this world should be ruled. This paper will argue that because philosophy kings have knowledge about the forms they are better rulers of the sensible world, rather than sight-lovers. This paper is divided into two phases, each showing how Socrates has used the theory of the forms. Philosopher Kings and Sight Lovers: The idea of philosophy kings first comes up in Book V of the Republic at 473d. Socrates claims that the sensible world can only exist once kings, or those who rule practice philosophy. As Socrates is saying this, he himself realizes how his statement is somewhat radical. This radical claim by Socrates leads him to distinguish the difference between philosophy kings and sight lovers using the theory of the forms. At 476b (Rep. V), Socrates says that the lovers of sights only like beautiful characteristics such as shapes and sounds. Socrates argues that these individuals don’t see the underlying beauty. Although not explicitly mentioned, at this point, Socrates is using the theory of forms to distinguish philosophers and sight lovers. For sight-lovers, beauty is on a comparative basis; say for example “A” has beautiful features once it is observed alone. Once we compare “A” with all things beautiful, it may not posses the beauty it once did. This is what sight-lovers see when they compare beauty. It is seen as many things rather than one thing alone (476a). Yet for those who have knowledge of the forms, beauty is said to be in itself beautiful and will endlessly remain beautiful (479a). In order to support the theory of the forms, the basis of knowledge and opinion must be established. Socrates’ first premise regarding knowledge is that it’s about what is (Rep. V, 477a). In this same passage, Socrates also says that ignorance is about what is not; the opposite of what is. The discussion develops throughout 477e – 478e, where Socrates shows that knowledge and

opinion are different. Opinions are concluded to be in the middle of the knowledge and ignorance spectrum. Take beauty for example, someone who knows nothing of beauty would be considered ignorant. Someone who can list beautiful things would be expressing an opinion on what things are beautiful and those who can define beauty in itself are knowledgeable. The discussion in Book V then moves towards the following conclusion, As for those who study the many beautiful things but do not see the beautiful itself and are incapable of following another who leads them to it, who see many just things but not the just itself, and so with everything – these people, we shall say, opine everything but have no knowledge of anything they opine (479e). In this passage Socrates is expressing that those who define forms by characteristics and not the form itself have opinions on everything and no actual knowledge. They may name things that are in the form of beauty but they cannot define beauty in itself. Those who are lovers of sight have opinions whereas philosophy kings have knowledge regarding the forms (480a). In terms of the sensible world, Socrates argues that those who have knowledge (philosophers) should be rulers rather than the ignorant or opinionated (sight lovers). This is because the sight-lovers don’t have knowledge about any of the forms. If they do not have knowledge about the forms then it is unlikely that they can govern the sensible/ideal world. This can be shown through the form of justice, if rulers do not have knowledge about what is just and unjust then it’s unlikely that they can rule the city justly. Therefore, if philosophers have knowledge of the forms they can lead the city to an ideal state. To better understand the relationship between the forms, knowledge, philosophers and sight-lovers we can look to the allegory of the caves in Book VII of The Republic. Allegory of the Caves: The purpose of this allegory was to portray the effect education has on humans. For this essay, each stage will be analyzed through the theory of the forms and how knowledge/education of the forms can lead to a sensible world.

Stage 1: The allegory begins by describing a rather extreme image. There are prisoners who have been chained down their entire lives, so much so that they cannot move a single inch. They stare at shadows that move across a wall directly in front of them. While the shadows pass they also hear voices. Because these shadows are all they have ever seen/heard they begin to see truth in their existence (Rep. VII, 515c). If a knowledgeable individual were to see these shadows they would not believe them to be so real since they would’ve learnt and seen shadows being created. This is not the case for the prisoners; they lack the knowledge that would allow them to conclude that these in fact are not “real” and are just illusions. Stage 2: If the prisoner was now freed and encouraged to look at the artifacts that created the shadows he would see less truth in the actual artifacts and more truth in the shadows. This is so because the prisoner is familiar and more knowledgeable about what he has seen in the past. The prisoner would be unfamiliar with the new so much so that he would return to what he knows, the shadows and dark. Stage 3: After the prisoner has returned to the cave he is dragged out of the cave by force. After the adjustment phase the prisoner begins to observe nature. He can eventually acknowledge the presence of the sun, moon, trees, etc. Through his observations he can begin making conclusions about the sun (Rep. VII, 516a-c). From Book VI, we know that the sun is a metaphor for illumination and/or the form of the good (508e). Therefore, once the prisoner has developed an understanding of the sun they have also established an understanding of the forms. This stage shows that after further education the prisoner begins to understand and learn about new things (illumination). He begins to move away from what he knew before and learn more truthful/real things. This allegory showed that individuals must reach beyond the cave in order to understand the forms. It also shows that through education and knowledge one can reach the highest stage of

illumination, recognizing forms. More specifically, individuals must continuously learn more, therefore increasing their knowledge. Once they have expanded their education to the point of illumination, they have true knowledge of the forms. Stage #4: In this stage, the prisoner re-enters the cave with more knowledge and therefore, as philosophers. At 520c (Rep. VII), Socrates goes through what should be said to the philosophers who have to enter the cave. These philosophers must go into the darkness and get used to it. They will be better off than the other prisoners because of their knowledge. Since the returned prisoners have “seen the truth about fine, just, and good things, they will [you’ll] know each image for what it is and also that of which it is the image” (book VII, 520c). The philosophers will also be told what goals they must fulfill. For instance, philosophers will govern the city unlike the common practices seen in classical Greece. Socrates states, Thus, for you and for us, the city will be governed, not like the majority of cities nowadays, by people who fight over shadows and struggle against one another in order to rule – as if that were a great good – but by people who are awake rather than dreaming, for the truth is surely this: A city whose perspective rulers are least eager to rule must of necessity be most free from civil war, whereas a city with the opposite kind of rulers is governed in the opposite way (520c-d). Socrates is saying that cities usually fight over things that seem to be good, as lovers of sight. They declare war just to conquer lands, which can be good but it is not good in itself. Whereas philosopher kings will build a city based on a profound understanding of the forms including justice and good. In summary, philosophers are better rulers than sight-lovers because they understand the truth behind the forms. In conclusion, Socrates has used the theory of the forms in order to distinguish the difference between philosopher kings and sight lovers. He then used the theory of the forms to depict the allegory of the cave. Through these two phases, he has proved that because philosopher kings possess knowledge about the forms they would be better rulers than sight lovers.…...

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