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Platonic and Aristotelian forms

Platonic and Aristotelian forms

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Published by Byron Lloyd Harmon
Comparing and contrasting Plato and Aristotle's forms
Comparing and contrasting Plato and Aristotle's forms

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Published by: Byron Lloyd Harmon on Feb 01, 2013
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Byron Philo 230 Platonic and Aristotelian forms

The Platonic and Aristotelian (F/f)orms share many similarities, and seem to be attempts to understand or make sense of the relationship between ideas and abstract notions and the world around us. In this essay I will begin by explaining Plato‘s conception of the Forms followed by Aristotle‘s. I shall then elucidate what I perceive to be the key differences. In the Republic Plato makes a number of references to the forms. In Book V he states (p144 The Republic, Translated by Benjamin Jowlett): ―The lovers of sounds and sights… are… fond of fine tones and colors and forms and all the artificial products that are made out of them, but their mind is incapable of seeing or loving absolute beauty‖ In this Book Plato is making a distinction between ignorance and knowledge and establishing a middle ground of opinion. In this framework knowledge is only of absolutes, or the Forms. He reiterates ―but if there be anything which is of such a nature as to be and not to be, that will have a place intermediate between pure being and the absolute negation of being.‖ (p 144) What we gain from this is that forms, to Plato, are absolute and pure whereas our world, the world of opinion and often ignorance can only approximate it. The idea of our world being a reflection or an obscure approximation of the forms is further reinforced with Plato‘s metaphor of the cave. Loosely paraphrased, the cave is a situation in which there are people chained to face a wall whereupon there are images cast from the shadows and light of a fire. To these miserable people, this would be their reality.(p 177) Plato then supposes that the man is set free and is made to see the objects used to cast shadows and explain their relationship to the shadow objects of his former reality. Finally, the man is ―reluctantly dragged up a steep and rugged ascent, and held fast

His understanding is dynamic and grows upon itself throughout the Physics. and not absolute justice. the absolutes. provides us with a different conception of form.‖ (p253) This adds the forms of many objects into his world of Forms. Aristotle. nor can follow any guide who points the way thither. tables and other like objects. That is. Metaphysics and De Anima. attempting to imitate the Forms and there is the absolute world of the Forms. is vague. At the end of Book V he provides a few examples ―those who see the many beautiful. And the maker of either of them makes a bed or he makes a table for our use. exactly. He claims ―another account of ‗nature‘ is the shape or form which is specified in the definition of the thing‖ He continues. and who yet neither see absolute beauty. but it provides a stunning visual and intuitive understanding. Aristotle first mentions form in the physics.‖ (p178) This extended metaphor suggests that everything we perceive now. in contrast. there is our dynamic world.Byron Philo 230 Platonic and Aristotelian forms until he is forced into the presence of the sun itself. Similarly these puppets and sculptures are imitations of objects that exist outside of the cave. the shadows upon the cave wall are imitations of the sculptures and various puppets used to create them. along with the forms of justice. in accordance with the idea. He states ―there are beds and tables in the world—plenty of them…But there are only two ideas or forms of them—one the idea of a bed. That is.‖ (148) This passage suggests that the Forms are of abstract notions like justice beauty and good. and the other of a table. What this relationship is. In Plato‘s worldview there is a form of dualism. Another important aspect of Plato‘s Forms is what absolutes occupy this other world. and accept as reality is a reflection or representation of the world of the forms. Further light is shed on the subject in Book X when Plato discusses the illusory creation through poetry. who see many just. stating that material that has the potential to be a bed is not a bed because it has not . and good there are also chairs.

using the two interchangeably. Toward the beginning of Book II he suggests ―in the sense of form or essence. e. but it would also have privation in that it is not an optimally sharp and durable object. darkness. That is. black. in that I am not perfectly healthy and may have lingering unknown health problems.) black (privation. and in day and night they are light. for a thing is more properly said to be what it is when it has attained to fulfillment than when it exists potentially. At this point it may be fair of us to say that the form of the bed lies in its shape. Or that a saw may generally be said to have the form of a saw in so far that it is sharp and made of durable substances. in color they are white. He asserts that ―one might say that there are three principles – the form. (p118) On the next page he says ―The form indeed is ‗nature‘ rather than the matter. Later.Byron Philo 230 Platonic and Aristotelian forms received the form of bed yet. and the matter. and surface. In book II of De Anima he puts forward a theory . That is I may have the form of health but also slight degrees of privation. material having such a shape/form is a bed.) and surface (matter) is reiterated earlier by Aristotle when describing the senses.g. and air‖ (p 278) In this framework we can then attribute degrees of form and degrees of privation. The idea of white (form. Form in this new definition is the essence by which something is deemed something. But each of these is different for each case. Aristotle builds upon this notion. Aristotle modifies the understanding of form in De Anima. the privation. which is that precisely in virtue of which a thing is called ‗a this‘‖ (p 171) In this instance form is equated with essence rather than shape. being used for cutting and smaller than a sword. It has the essence of being a knife. aiding our understanding of an object‘s essence in terms of its contrast to privation.‖ and later ―The shape then is nature‖ (p119) What he has established early on is a correlation between form and shape. We might say an object is a knife by virtue of its being sharp.

He expresses these differences: . in that the form lies in the white of the color that we take in. But we impart the form of the bed upon it.‖(p 204)That is objects have the potential to be sense. it fits loosely with the notion of essence. Aristotle‘s notion of forms we get something that is roughly equitable to our internal understanding of an external object. and through the act of shaping it. rather than in the surface of the object itself. This is comparable to the earlier sense. That is.Byron Philo 230 Platonic and Aristotelian forms of the senses stating ―By a ‗sense‘ is meant what has the power of receiving into itself the sensible forms of things without the matter. and we actualize this potential when we perceive them. we take in their form through our senses but we do not take in the object itself. If we put all of his ideas together. This is a large deviation from the initial understanding of form as merely an objects shape or our ability to perceive it. that is we give it the essence of what it is to be a bed. But substance (meaning form here) is actuality. and thus soul is the actuality of a body as above characterized. we see a bed and we have an idea of it. we have the materials for a bed.‖ (p 172) This means that the soul is the form of a living creature. For example. Aristotle shakes up this very physical notion of the form when discussing the soul. in terms of us understanding it to be a bed. that is when something moves from potentiality to actuality. it has the potential to be a bed. He alleges that ―the soul must be a substance in the sense of the form of a natural body having life potentially within it. Form is also when these notions are actualized. we perceive the form of the bed in its shape. essence and from the senses we receive. Though. In the metaphysics Aristotle clearly outlines the essential difference between his conception of form and Plato‘s forms.

the form of house does not so exist. e.‖ (p 277) The essence of what Aristotle is saying is that while an object may embody a certain form. Aristotle‘s forms are very much connected to the matter which they substantiate and actualize. . unless the art of building exists apart. Additionally. from a Platonic point of view.Byron Philo 230 Platonic and Aristotelian forms ―Now in some cases the ‗this‘ does not exist apart from the composite substance. A bed that a craftsman makes is only an approximation to the Form of the bed. then health also exists… evidently then there no necessity. Aristotle never considers abstract notions when discussing forms. the Form of bed exists regardless of the existence of beds that carpenters may or may not construct. Platonic Forms exist in a much more abstract sense than Aristotle‘s forms. Objects in Plato‘s worldview only participate in or imitate the Forms.g. on this ground at least. For Aristotle a builder cannot put the form of good into a house. beauty. Plato includes the Forms of good. justice and other abstract notions within his category of Forms. that does not mean that the Form continues to exist regardless of the objects continued existence. it is only in the case of natural objects. And so Plato was not far wrong when he said that there are as many Forms as there are kinds of natural object (if there are Forms distinct from the things of this earth…) For when a man is healthy. That is. but of the ‗this‘ exists apart from the concrete thing. for the existence of ideas.

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