Philosophy and Ethics Assessment: Critical Analysis of Plato's The Good

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Philosophy and Ethics Assessment: Critical Analysis of Plato’s the Good

Defining the Good according to Plato is not an easy undertaking. The best approach to understanding the Good is to first understand it as a Form, and then define Plato’s theory of Forms. From there is possible to gain insight of the Good as a Form and its theoretical implications, especially concerning ethics. According to Plato, everything in the visible world is that of a Form. Forms can be described as “the single unitary entity, the reality, of which its many instances would be the appearances” (Cross, 1964; Woozley, 1964). For example, Plato believed in the Form of Beauty. Many things the human eye sees are beautiful, but these are not the reality. They are only mere appearances. The true beautiful thing exists as a Form, unable to be seen in the human realm. True philosophers can understand the distinction between appearance and reality, because they can understand everything is a Form. Only the man who refuses to accept appearances as truth is a philosopher as “he alone, has knowledge, since he knows the reality (the Forms) of which the many particulars are appearances” (Cross, 1964; Woozley, 1964). The true philosopher has knowledge, which is definite and resolved, where as everyone else only has beliefs. The philosopher is the lover of reason and knowledge, and the non-philosopher is ignorant of reason loving only the appearances of sights and sounds. For Plato, the body is a “hindrance, in the pursuit of wisdom” (William, 1990), and wisdom is essential to understanding Forms since “we do not get access to Forms through the senses” (William, 1990). We do not get access to Forms through the senses, because Forms do not exists as physical entities in the human world. They are perfect and unchanging ideals of which everything on earth is a lesser imitation. We can partially understand Forms due to Plato’s theory of recollection and properties of the soul, namely that “our souls also existed apart from the body before they took on human form, and they had intelligence” (Plato, 2002). He argues our souls are immortal and existed before our bodies. Therefore they were in contact with Forms before entering our body. From this basis it is possible to access Forms according to Plato’s reasoning.

Understanding Forms is the basis to understanding what Plato meant by the Good, because the Good is the supreme Form. Plato gives no exact definition of the Good, but in alignment with his belief that no man intentionally commits a wrong, he claims, “Every soul… pursues it [the Good], and all her actions are for the sake of it” (Joseph, 1948). Plato conveys that people should live their life according to the Good, as it is the ultimate form of knowledge. Take for example Plato’s analogy of the Sun. The sun allows for light, which allows eyes to see objects and for objects to be seen. Plato equates the Form of the Good to the sun, truth to the light the sun allows for, the Forms to the objects sight allows the eyes to see, and knowledge to the process of sight. Therefore, the “Form of the Good is the cause of truth, which enables the Forms to be known, and of knowledge, which enables the mind to know, though it itself is neither truth nor knowledge” (Cross, 1964; Woozley, 1964). From this, it is concluded that the Form of the Good is the basis for every other Form, which holds significance because, Forms are “an attempt to account for absolute moral standards” (Cross, 1964; Woozley, 1964).

The problem with this analogy in understanding the Good is that it depends upon the condition of belief, we previously discussed, as being attributable to the non-philosopher. When Plato speaks of the Sun, he speaks of the visible world, and when he speaks of the Forms, the intelligible world. The difficulty arises in that he gives no proof of this intelligible world. There is only belief in the intelligible world, due to our sight only allows for the visible world....
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