Plato expounded his Theory of Forms over a writing career of some forty years. The theory was being refined over this period and is never fully explained in any one dialogue. Thus, any explanation of the theory, involves piecing together fragments as they appear throughout Plato's writings, and recasting the earlier statements in the light of the metaphysical framework developed in the later works. General Statement of the Theory of Forms
The theory basically claims the existence of a level of reality or "world" inhabited by the ideal or archetypal forms of all things and concepts. Therefore a form exists, for objects like tables and rocks and also for concepts, such as beauty and justice. The forms are eternal and changeless, but enter into a partnership with changeable matter, to produce the objects and examples of concepts, we perceive in the temporary world. These are always in a state of becoming, and may participate in a succession of forms. The ever changing world can now, only be the source of an opinion. Plato mentions the opinions derived from our senses, to the perception of shadows of real objects, cast upon the wall of a cave. True knowledge however, is the perception of the original forms themselves, which are real, eternal, and unchanging. An Assessment of the Strengths and Weaknesses of the Theory
The great logical strength of the Theory of Forms is that it is a construction capable of adapting to all criticism: while there are archetypal forms that correspond to all terms used by man, many of the terms used by man are incorrect; only the Gods use correct names consistently. While Socrates may be presented as agreeing with his interlocutors, this is usually a step in demonstrating their state of ignorance, and indeed that of Socrates. For in the true Socratic tradition the recognition of one's own ignorance is seen as an advancement of knowledge. It is important to realize that the Theory of Forms is a hypothesis that is proven...
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