Plato and the Forms

Plato and the Forms

In general the Greek philosophers were not concerned to discover the nature of God as he (or she) might be understood in modern religious terms. Nor were they anxious to discover a personal faith in a supreme deity. Plato, Aristotle and the other serious philosophers of Greece wanted to discover the ultimate explanation of the universe. They thought that it would be possible to unravel the secrets of the source of the world and of life itself. Most of these men believed that there was some sort of complex plan which could be uncovered – a sort of explanation of everything.

Plato believed that the world could be divided into

Appearance – the things we see around us

Reality – the way things really are.



An intelligible world

A visible world

A world beyond the senses

A world of senses

A world of true knowledge

A world of opinions

The easiest way to see what he was getting at is to consider some abstract concepts like beauty, truth and justice.

Plato thought there was something we call beauty it existed as a concept or, as he would say a Form. We can’t see it or touch it, we just see aspects of beauty eg A beautiful view, a beautiful picture, a beautiful girl.

The view, the picture and the girl have an appearance of what we mean by beauty and Plato thought that beauty itself was an abstract reality or a Form.


Try it again for truth.

Plato believed there was a Form or a concept of Truth. It exists and everyone knows what is meant by it, although we can’t see it or touch it.

We only see aspects of it. Eg “He is a truthful boy”.  “It seemed a truthful explanation”. “He told the whole truth”.

Even the everyday things around us are not real, they only have an appearance of reality.

The world of realities and aspects of realities does not only apply to abstract concepts like truth, beauty or justice, it can be applied to contingent objects such as desks, chairs, houses, buses, books. In each case Plato would argue that what we see around us are not real desks, chairs, houses, buses or books; they are copies or reflections of the Forms. The real objects exist only in the world of Forms.

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