You are on page 1of 8

Form Form, in the history of philosophy, term used to translate the Greek words idea and eidos, referring

to a particular kind of entity which plays a prominent role in the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle. Platonic forms are eternally existent, immaterial entities; they exist apart from the ordinary objects of experience in the sensible world around us; and they are the objects of reason rather than perception. Uncontroversial examples of Platonic forms include ethical and aesthetic properties, such as justice and beauty; properties of si e, such as largeness and smallness; and geometrical properties, such as e!uality. "ertain passages in Plato suggest an extension of the range of forms to include all properties that are common to many things. #or Plato, forms are the proper object of philosophical in!uiry since they, unlike the instances of these properties we perceive in the world around us, provide a stable basis for knowledge. Perceptible objects that have these properties, such as beautiful paintings or large buildings, are said to derive their beauty or largeness from their relation to the corresponding forms$beauty or largeness. %hereas Platonic forms exist separately from the objects of ordinary experience, Aristotelian forms may be characterized as “immanent & they do not exist over and above the objects which have them. 'he Aristotelian notion of form is tied to a correlative notion of matter. #or example, bricks are the matter of which a house is composed. (ut the bricks, taken by themselves, do not constitute a house; they do so only by taking on the form of a house. #or Aristotle, it is the form, more than the matter, which makes the house what it is; form constitutes the essence of the house as being a shelter for people and goods. )n the case of artefacts, the form of each may be thought of as a certain functional shape. #or Aristotle, however, the paradigm case of form is the form of a living thing, such as an animal or plant. 'his form is an internal dynamic principle which is causally responsible for the natural processes of development that the organism undergoes and which is reproduced in generation. Aristotle identifies the form of a living thing as its soul. Although the term *form+ is seldom used in modern philosophical discussion except in reference to Plato or Aristotle, their discussions of forms are the ancestors of much of the modern debate about universals, essence, and natural kinds, as well as of certain solutions to problems regarding the identity of objects over time. "ontributed (y& ,erity -arte !ssence "philosophy# ) ).'/01U"')0. 2ssence 3philosophy4, the property or properties an object must ha$e if it is to be what it is . )n addition, if being human is the essence of 5ocrates, it is then a necessary truth about 5ocrates that he is human. 'he thesis that objects have essences might be motivated as follows. )t seems plausible to suppose that an object might not have had some of the properties it actually has. #or example, 5ocrates might not have been executed by the Athenians in 677 bc; he might have died peacefully in his sleep a few years later. -owever, there seems to be a limit to the properties 5ocrates could have failed to have while remaining 5ocrates. 5uppose

definition. Alternatively. A special. "learly. #or :ripke. 'he necessity. #or Aristotle. more or less complete.?0 in all possible worlds. )ts nominal essence is the idea we have in our minds corresponding to the name of the object. since there might have been fewer planets than seven. this idea is a list. but rather some feature of the way we describe the object. :ripke also argues . what makes the object what it is . the sentence *the number of the planets is necessarily greater than seven+ is false. Against >uine. if there are haecceities. 'he close connection evident in Aristotle8s thought between essence. <0/2 /2"2."2 ). the criteria by which we identify an object are divorced from its underlying nature. >uine argues. is a function of the way we describe the object concerned. according to 9ocke. A scientific understanding of something is achieved only once one has grasped its essence. as in the claim that 5ocrates is essentially human. #or example. 'he historical 5ocrates$that very individual$ could not have been anything other than human. :ripke calls such a description a *weak designator+& it does not designate the same object in all possible worlds. is part of 5ocrates8s essence. unlike having been executed in 677 bc. -aving been human. the essence of 5ocrates is to be human. but controversial. %he essence of an object is often taken to constitute its identity. the number nine may be referred to by the numeral *7+ or. of its known sensible !ualities. case of individual essence is called a *haecceity+. ))) 2552. 5ince the real essence of an object. some have supposed that each object has a uni!ue individual essence. in all possible conditions of the actual world. an object8s essence is the kind of thing it is& so. #or example. contending that what makes something necessary is not some feature of the object concerned. -owever.' P-)9050P-= )n recent philosophy. and its *nominal essence+. the American philosopher 5aul :ripke argued that the example turns on a feature of descriptions such as *the number of the planets+. natural kinds such as water have empirically discoverable essences. Aristotle identifies an object8s essence with its substantial form& this is what makes the object what it is. natural kind terms and proper names are *rigid designators+. they are properties an object could not have lacked. )) A/)5'0'92 A. %ater is thus necessarily -?0 and this fact is independent of the way we describe water. discussion of essence has concentrated on the !uestion of what kind of necessity is involved in the claim that an essential property is a property an object must have. while the sentence *7 is necessarily greater than seven+ is true.1 90":2 #or Aristotle. %illard . the term *water+ designates a substance which is . which he identified as the internal constitution of its underlying parts. and the means by which we identify something as a member of a kind was challenged by . (y contrast. by the phrase *the number of the planets+. that is. the definition of something states its essence. that is. which is the property an object has of being that very object. since there are nine planets. the essence of a house is to be a shelter for people and goods. 9ocke distinguished between the *real essence+ of an object. therefore. )ts essence may consist in membership of a natural kind.an 0rman >uine argued against essences. is unknown to us. therefore.ohn 9ocke. At this point most people will agree that we have simply ceased to talk about a genuine possibility for the historical 5ocrates.one suggested that 5ocrates could have been a giraffe rather than a human being.

the nominalist position being expounded by /oscelin. A theory intermediate between nominalism and realism is that of conceptualism. in medieval scholastic philosophy. the extreme theory of realism was first enunciated by Plato in his doctrine of universal archetypal ideas. 'he nominalistic doctrine is opposed to the philosophical theory called extreme realism. and the realist by (ernard of "hartres and %illiam of "hampeaux. 'he issue between nominalism and realism was not only philosophical but also theological. actions are morally right or wrong only because they are commanded or forbidden by Bod. or style of literary or artistic work. <odern philosophical discussion of essence is embedded in discussion of a cluster of related problems& these concern modality. and *circle+. "ontributed (y&. but no concrete identity with a separate essence of roundness exists corresponding to the name. doctrine stating that abstractions. *beauty+. although they have no real or substantive existence in the external world. according to which universals have a real and independent existence prior to and apart from particular objects. are without essential or substantive reality. cannot be understood. sort. in literature. which he ties to the necessity of something8s origins. all advocates of scholasticism.erity -arte &ominalism .+of or pertaining to names+4. for /oscelin maintained that the 'rinity 3#ather. hence the term *nominalism+. which locates universals in the mind but also admits a real basis in particular objects. Genre "literature# ) ). #or example.ominalism 39atin nominalis. according to the individuali ing method of nominalism. 5on. conceived in the traditional theology of the "hurch as constituting a unity of one divine nature. theories of naming and reference. semantics. in which universals. such as *animal+. 'he nominalist@realist controversy became prominent in the late AAth and A?th centuries. 'he "hurch was therefore irreconcilably opposed to nominalism. a category. 'hese universals. )f there is no common nature for all individuals. and that only individual objects have real existence. were held to be mere names. . and laws of nature. the name *circle+ is applied to things that are round and is thus a general designation. a doctrine known as tritheism.ominalism evolved from the thesis of Aristotle that all reality consists of individual things.'/01U"')0. then there is no natural law that governs all people. 'he implications for ethics were also far@reaching. for example. known as universals. except as three distinct and separate gods. do exist as ideas or concepts in the mind and are thus something more than mere names. and logical positivism. Another alternative theory is moderate realism. *nation+. kind. natural kinds. Benre 3literature4. of an individual person8s having come from a particular fertili ed egg and sperm consisting of a particular set of atoms. and -oly 5pirit4. 'he defence of nominalism undertaken by the ACth@century 2nglish scholastic philosopher %illiam of 0ckham prepared the way for various modern nominalistic theories such as those of instrumentalism.in defence of individual essences. . pragmatism.

is that they want to say something which has in general been expressed in a given form in the past. and so as a poet capable of epic. )t reflects a deep urge.)')0. and also those dramatists who have sustained that tradition.)) 12#). it is hard. and mention of the term gives rise to two further !uestions of definition. has proved a most enduring genre. and the more such models are used. thereby discharging the debt of influence he felt to the /oman poet. 5econdly. to classify literary works. 0ther generic decisions signify a fondness for the past. though. being too broad and too varied to be called a genre. 5o familiar. 5o. 'hus. it is described as an elegy if it speaks of the death of a loved or admired person. there are two kinds of answer to this !uestion& a genre can be defined either by the formal properties of the work.ersification4. for instance. and most obvious. to think of speaking about death any other way than elegiacally. are the conventions of pastoral poetry that simply to mention them is to indicate nostalgia for a time when life was less . 'he idea of genre is notoriously difficult to define. neither form nor subject matter alone will usually be sufficient to define a genre. in writers and readers. #irst. genre is among the most enduring of literary concepts. #or instance. writers sometimes stay faithful to the conventions of a particular genre in order to indicate respect for the tradition embodied in those conventions. though. 'he various types and forms of poetry are more properly called genres. on the other hand. and it is the difficulty of performing such classification which has kept the term alive. %illiam %ordsworth asserts himself as <ilton8s e!ual. writers inevitably look for models. <ore specifically. #or all these difficulties of definition. 2legy. introduced by the Breek philosopher Aristotle and now enjoying yet another revival in contemporary literary criticism. while. or by its subject matter. Alexander Pope deliberately wrote his <oral 2ssays after the style of -orace.ohn :eats. A more complex reason for choosing to write in a particular genre is to signal some attitude to the past and to literary history$respect. #or instance. when should a literary work be said to be of one genre and not anotherD (roadly speaking. for instance the epic or the lyric. 'he simplest. a poem is held to be a sonnet if it is AC lines long. A slightly less generous reason for writing in a given genre can be the desire to emulate the past and previous writers 3an impulse which does. a sonnet is a poem about love. what kinds of literary form should properly be called genresD Poetry. Arthur <iller8s play 1eath of a 5alesman 3A7C74 honours and identifies with both the tragic tradition. in fact. the more the style in which previous writers have treated the subject hardens into a genre. the poet . however. is now generally thought of as a literary *mode+./2 Artists choose to work in a particular genre for a variety of reasons. especially as defined by Aristotle. As a result. 'hus in the first book of 'he Prelude. "ertain subjects therefore lend themselves to certain genres by association. %hen dealing with subjects as difficult to contemplate as death. now. signal a measure of respect4. or antagonism. and such sentiments had always been expressed in the form of an elegy. )n fact. but a specific Breek poetic metre 3see . by convention. and is a useful example of the way genres develop. a writer might use genre to acknowledge the importance of a particular predecessor. *Adonais+ by Percy (ysshe 5helley is elegiac because the poet wanted to honour and lament the death of his friend. ))) '-2 U525 0# B2. perhaps. for instance. while the word *elegiac+ originally denoted not a concern with death.

and. )t follows from this that writers are urged to stay within. harmony4. how new genres develop. "9A55)"A9 0/)B). 'hus. like the epic. %orking from within the same club . and the manner in which they recount events. c. comedy. 'hey have asked& what makes one genre different from another. because less vulgar. #rom Aristotle to /oland (arthes. and comedy ignoble characters4. by which he argues that certain forms are naturally suited to certain subjects. Aristotle develops the concept of *decorum+. but also its *species and their respective capacities+. hymn@like4 poetry. tragedy. and flute@ and lyre@playing$and the majority of the Poetics is occupied with the task of differentiating between these species. 5wift8s aim being first to attract readers of such works. differ according to their use of means 3rhythm. <uch /oman discussion of genre took the form of handbooks on rhetoric. how much generic integrity should be preserved. literary critics have shown great interest in genre. ). 'he idyll has a similar function. -e divides poetry into five categories$epic. than epic. whether by third@ or first@ person narration. for instance )nstitutio 0ratoria 3'he 'raining of an 0rator. 2!ually the decision to use a new 3or long neglected4 genre is often rooted in an artist8s desire to distance himself or herself from a previous generation of artists. generic conventions tells us about a particular culture. -is A <odest Proposal 3AF?74 was written in the style of an economic treatise. Aristotle famously contending that tragedy was better. flourish at certain times and not at others. "entral to the Poetics is the argument for a hierarchy of genres. generic conventions. that the violence that ensues should not be taken too seriously. for instance4 have proved more enduring than at others. or hostility towards. )n much the same way that gang members bond by the use of slang. )n the opening statement of the Poetics he announces his intention to discuss not only the art of poetry in general. dithyrambic 3wild. or dramatically. and what an interest in. A further and increasingly important reason an artist will work within the confines of a given genre is to establish a contract with the audience. describing how tragedy and comedy evolved out of epic and iambs 3low invectives4 respectively. dialogue.complicated. whether some genres are intrinsically superior to others. for instance. by a series of conventional signals 3such as props. 'he artist can also use the generic contract to identify with his chosen audience. )t was however. their object 3tragedy. for instance treating noble characters.5 0# B2. -is Poetics applied the same attempt at classification to literature that he had developed in his writings on natural science. "ritics have asked different !uestions of genre than writers. and not to mix. #or Aristotle such species./2 Aristotle was the first critic to dwell on !uestions of genre. <ost importantly perhaps.onathan 5wift put the generic contract to more subversive use. or production values4 the director of a . why some genres. so Alexander Pope used conventional satirical references to declare his aesthetic and political associations with the 5criblerus club and its admirers. why some genres 3biography. and then to undermine the attitudes such works conventionally convey. a parody. 'hus in the A7CEs the American poet /obert 9owell signalled his dislike for experimental writing by imitating the rigorously formal poetry of Berard <anley -opkins. ad 7G4 by >uintilian and /hetorica ad . 'his contract can be used by the artist to tell the audience how to interpret the work. or genres. -e was also the first critic to discuss generic development. language. the conventions reflecting *natural+ distinctions.ames (ond film lets his audience know that certain things are likely to happen.

<)1192 AB25 '0 '-2 /2. iambics. believed to be by "icero.onson all turned on generic considerations. medieval writers and critics did not share this classical interest in genre. and elegiac subject matter. comedy. the )talian poet 1ante also advanced generic theory.-erennium. however. A 1iscourse upon "omedy by Beorge #ar!uhar. devoting only one paragraph of 1e Arte <etrica to the !uestion of genre. An 2ssay on the 'heater by 0liver Boldsmith. 'hus the idea of genre was given a political twist. he also argues that it is sometimes necessary to invent new forms. -owever. Pope8s respect for generic forms arose from his reverence for classical learning.A)55A. 0f 1ramatick Poesy. )t was the poet -orace."2 0n the whole.enerable (ede.5 '0 /0<A. /enaissance theorists placed genre at the centre of literary criticism. As with 1ryden. as certain /oman writers had. though such forms. in his 2ssay. %ritten some GE years after 5hakespeare8s death. which described the forms orators should use to gain maximum rhetorical effect on any given occasion. 'he epic is an expression of cultural strength. he insisted. %illiam %ebbe8s A 1iscourse of 2nglish Poetry. tragical@ historical. and mas!ues in 'he 'empest4. a popular form 3of which 5ir Bawain and the Breen :night is a key example4 which dealt with the conventions of courtly love. pastoral@comical. an 2ssay 3AHHI4 by . 'he 2nglish /enaissance attitude to genre is characteri ed by a flexibility that reflects the confidence of the period. history. and his shrewd mixing of generic elements 3for instance the painful moments of comedy in the otherwise tragic :ing 9ear4. and lyric poetry$and argues that the poet must appreciate the importance of generic difference.ohn <ilton. . and a version of Ars Poetica by (en . holding to Aristotle8s criteria. A generic approach to 5hakespeare would concentrate on his innovations to the sonnet form. "ertainly <ilton8s poem acts as a summation of the new /enaissance learning. and. that generic forms were not devised but discovered in nature. Pope argued. is a different example of the period8s generic confidence. -orace provides a brief history of several genres$epic. for the notion of decorum. must be self@consistent. comic. for whom art is always a !uestion of categories& *tragedy. )n 1e . the 2ssay on "riticism 3AFAA4 by Alexander Pope all asserted the value of generic integrity. elegiacs. with the re!uirements of genre. the ponderous counsellor in -amlet. but disputing his hierarchy. just as he developed the epic. and adapted the concept of decorum to establish which of the various )talian dialects was most suited to tragic. like -orace.) AUBU5'A. the . Perhaps the chief generic development of the period was the emergence out of the epic tradition of the romance. no writer being more flexible than 5hakespeare.ohn 1ryden. tragical@comical@historical@pastoral+. -owever. for instance. and is thus a genre to which few writers have been able to aspire.')"5 %riters of the Augustan 3or . by . articulating the medieval )talian concern with regional and interstate politics. most importantly. who made the most substantial /oman contribution to genre studies. Beorge Puttenham8s 'he Arte of 2nglish Poetry.An Apologie for Poetry by 5ir Philip 5idney. contending. historical@pastoral. 5hakespeare8s supreme confidence is apparent in his satirical treatment of Polonius. his Ars Poetica offering a subtle development of Aristotle8s rather dogmatic arguments.eo@"lassical4 period in (ritish literary history were preoccupied. but such reverence itself re!uires some . and at the latter end of the 2nglish /enaissance.ulgari 2lo!uentia he defended his decision to write 'he 1ivine "omedy in )talian rather than 9atin. pastoral. not to say obsessed. . his incorporation of genres within genres 3pastoral scenes in As =ou 9ike )t. the epic poem Paradise 9ost.

Pope8s mock@epic 'he /ape of the 9ock mocked not epic.explanation.ictorian aesthetic theorists were historical. actively hostile to the conventions and restraints of genre. the explicit resistance to genre found in books such as 2dward =oung8s "onjectures on 0riginal "omposition anticipates the dominant /omantic line on the !uestion. )n fact.eo@"lassical essay 0f 'ragedy by the philosopher 1avid -ume.eo@ "lassical impulse. -owever. Alfred 9ord 'ennyson sought refuge in Arthurian romance and that most conventionally nostalgic of forms. Benerally though. and history rarely stand in easy relation to one another. however. 'hus %alter Pater in Plato and Platonism 3AI764. (oth Pater8s title and Arnold8s mark a nostalgia for a more simple way of life 3the classical life4. serving as an outlet for readers8 unenlightened fascination with the mysterious and the supernatural.)"'0/)A.orlesungen Jber die Aesthetik by -egel.ictor -ugo. 2!ually. while in the novel one major development was the emergence of the detective story. /omantic writers and theorists were. and this nostalgia is reflected in the genres of the period. or place them in a hierarchy. was one such innovation. and so even while 2nlightenment thinking was insisting on the desirability of universal order and the power of reason. the idyll. -is decision to use the popular genre of the ballad marked his opposition to the over@elaborate poetry he found around him. -owever.eo@"lassical passion for genre was intended by the Augustans to signal a commitment to the values enshrined in classical forms. and a distaste for the corruptions of their own 3increasingly decadent4 society. but to explain how they evolved and why some genres flourished in some circumstances and not others. but a 9ondon society he felt unworthy of epic treatment. Augustan decorum is sometimes aligned with 2nlightenment philosophy. which emerged in the AFHEs. )t typified the contemporary vogue for satire.5 'he major genre@related concerns for . the .ohn Addington 5ymonds 3in 0n the Application of 2volutionary Principles to Art and 9iterature4. traceable through . .5 '0 <012/. 5ymptomatic of this hostility was the omission by %illiam %ordsworth of any mention of generic re!uirements in his Preface to 9yrical (allads 3AF7I4.)) . Unable to match the energies of the /enaissance. 'hus. 'he novel was the major new genre of the AIth century and it marked a willingness to embrace contemporary socio@economic reality 3shown by writers like 1aniel 1efoe and -enry #ielding to be far from ordered4 which !uite reversed the . philosophy. and constitutes one of the most important generic gestures in (ritish poetic history. for example. since both seem to share a desire to find order in nature. Uber 2pische und 1ramatische 1ichtung by Boethe. "ommitted to individualism and originality. %ordsworth8s poetry was not as free of generic considerations as he liked to pretend. finally to arrive at a . 'hus. a genre in which an individual blessed with special powers negotiates a tremendously complex se!uence of events. 'his approach was modern both in its use of 1arwinian terms. in the . . mixed with this modern thinking was a fear of the increasing complexity of A7th@century life. and <atthew Arnold 3in the Preface to <erope. generic innovations of the period articulated an awareness of change and a fascination with irrationality. and the Preface to 0des et (allades 3AI?H4 by . 'he Bothic novel. the Augustans had to look to another tradition to find a distinctive way of writing in 2nglish. 5o rapidly did the novel develop that it soon became the literary mode most attractive to generic innovation. as a rule. genre. as. and its belief in the possibility of explaining everything with reference to history. AIGI4 all sought not to define genres.

0ne of the #ormalists8 major innovations was to carry this critical practice into the study of popular 3or *low+4 forms such as the fairy tale. 'he ?Eth century has witnessed an explosion of both critical and creative styles. for example4 tended to hold generic convention in disdain.erbal Art4 was a major exponent of this kind of criticism. 'his anti@generic impulse resulted in such individual gestures as. in art. have had it both ways& /oland (arthes suggesting that a text has no meaning beyond the generic codes by which it functions. believing. )t can be argued. science fiction. Acid@ja . its feeling that everything of value has already been said. the situation comedy. though they called it novelty.orthrop #rye combined the study of genres with . )n his Anatomy of "riticism 3A7GF4. since the appeal of popular forms in various media 3like the detective story.eo@"lassical period was perhaps another4. =et if the ?Eth century has seen great aesthetic experimentalism. thus paving the way for modern cultural studies and the fascination with the soap opera. not subject matter. garage. 'he witty and highly allusive films of >uentin 'arantino are perhaps the inevitable product of such an age& sometimes honouring previous works.))) B2. techno.ungian analysis arguing that the major genres were rooted in archetypal forms of thought. in the value of originality.oyce. while for . dub. that genre provides as good a means of negotiating the differences as any other aesthetic notion. 2liot. ./2 ). which was their genre. or (rit@pop. #or the /ussian #ormalists. for instance.an <ukarovsky 3'he %ord and . artists inevitably become preoccupied with genre. and Pound. Benre was of central importance to structuralists like ' vetan 'odorov 3'he #antastic& A 5tructural Approach to Benre4 who argued that a literary work was to be read in relation to the systems from which it emerged. but always and everywhere showing their knowledge of genre. genre was important insofar as they sought to understand artistic works through their dominant element. "ertainly the term could be used to chart the critical and theoretical history of the period. . and nothing like a consensus can be said to have emerged on the !uestion of genre. be it rap. '-2 P05'<012/. 'he highest art of the century has been produced in the name of <odernism. which must always fulfil the conventions of a particular form. however. 'he generic character of the Postmodern period can also be found in its popular music. devoting their energies to considerations of artistic form. the thriller. sometimes parodying them. 'he detective story has gained popularity in the ?Eth century for these same reasons. Post@structuralists. Abstract 2xpressionist painting. and the <odernists 3. it has also given rise to an e!ually powerful cultural conservatism.ac!ues 1errida the category of genre is too self@ contradictory to be sustainable. like the /omantics.solution which everyone can grasp. . except that with the advent of mass communication this period has been more conscious than ever of a divide between high and low culture. on the other hand. AB2 'he literary critic -arold (loom argues that what defines the Postmodern period 3A7GE to the present4 is its feeling of lateness. "anadian literary critic . gangster@rap. )t is e!ually difficult to say anything general about the ?Eth century8s cultural products. )n anxious periods such as this 3the . and the soap opera4 lies in the very familiarity of their generic conventions. Art of all kinds thus tends to become either more allusive or more parodic.