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The theory of Forms or theory of Ideas[1][2][3] is a philosophical theory, concept, or world-view, attributed to Plato, that the physical world is not as real or true as timeless, absolute, unchangeable ideas.[4] According to this theory, ideas in this sense, often capitalized and translated as "Ideas" or "Forms",[5] are the non-physical essences of all things, of which objects and matter in the physical world are merely imitations. Plato speaks of these entities only through the characters (primarily Socrates) of his dialogues who sometimes suggests that these Forms are the only objects of study that can provide knowledge.[6] The theory itself is contested from within Plato's dialogues, and it is a general point of controversy in philosophy. Nonetheless the theory is considered to be a classical solution to the problem of universals.

The early Greek concept of form precedes attested philosophical usage and is represented by a number of words mainly having to do with vision, sight, and appearance. Plato uses these aspects of sight and appearance from the early Greek concept of the form in his dialogues to explain the Forms and the Good.

Perceived circles or lines are not exactly circular or straight, and true circles and lines could nev

... when a man has discovered the instrument which is naturally adapted to each work, he must express this natural form, and not others which he fancies, in the material ....

Perceived circles or lines are not exactly circular or straight, and true circles and lines could never be detected since by definition they are sets of infinitely small points. But if the perfect ones were not real, how could they direct the manufacturer?

Plato was well aware of the limitations of the theory, as he offered his own criticisms of it in his dialogue Parmenides. There Socrates is portrayed as a young philosopher acting as junior counterfoil to aged Parmenides. To a certain extent it is tongue-in-cheek as the older Socrates will have solutions to some of the problems that are made to puzzle the younger.[citation needed]

The dialogue does present a very real difficulty with the Theory of Forms, which Plato most likely only viewed as problems for later thought. These criticisms were later emphasized by Aristotle in rejecting an independently existing world of Forms. It is worth noting that Aristotle was a pupil and then a junior colleague of Plato; it is entirely possible that the presentation of Parmenides "sets up" for Aristotle; that is, they agreed to disagree.[Aristotle in rejecting an independently existing world of Forms. It is worth noting that Aristotle was a pupil and then a junior colleague of Plato; it is entirely possible that the presentation of Parmenides "sets up" for Aristotle; that is, they agreed to disagree.[citation needed]

One difficulty lies in the conceptualization of the "participation" of an object in a form (or Form). The young Socrates conceives of his solution to the problem of the universals in another metaphor, which though wonderfully apt, remains to be elucidated:[40]

Nay, but the idea may be like the day which is one and the same in many places at once, and yet continuous with itself; in this way each idea may be one and the same in all at the same time.

But exactly how is a Form like the day in being everywhere at once? The solution calls for a distinct form, in which the particular instances, which are not identical to the form, participate; i.e., the form is shared out somehow like the day to many places. The concept of "participate", represented in Greek by more than one word, is as obscure in Greek as it is in English. Plato hypothesized that distinctness meant existence as an independent being, thus opening himself to the famous third man argument of Parmenides,[41] which proves that forms cannot independently exist and be participated.[42]

If universa

If universal and particulars – say man or greatness – all exist and are the same then the Form is not one but is multiple. If they are only like each other then they contain a form that is the same and others that are different. Thus if we presume that the Form and a particular are alike then there must be another, or third Form, man or greatness by possession of which they are alike. An infinite regression would then result; that is, an endless series of third men. The ultimate participant, greatness, rendering the entire series great, is missing. Moreover, any Form is not unitary but is composed of infinite parts, none of which is the proper Form.

The young Socrates (some may say the young Plato) did not give up the Theory of Forms over the Third Man but took another tack, that the particulars do not exist as such. Whatever they are, they "mime" the Forms, appearing to be particulars. This is a clear dip into representationalism, that we cannot observe the objects as they are in themselves but only their representations. That view has the weakness that if only the mimes can be observed then the real Forms cannot be known at all and the observer can have no idea of what the representations are supposed to represent or that they are representations.

Socrates' later answer would be that men already know the Forms because they were in the world of Forms before birth. The mimes only recall these Forms to memory.[43] The comedian Aristophanes wrote a play, The Clouds, poking fun of Socrates with his head in the clouds.

The topic of Aristotle's criticism of Plato's Theory of Forms is a large one and continues to expand. Rather than quote Plato, Aristotle often summarized. Classical commentaries thus recommended Aristotle as an introduction to Plato. As a historian of prior thought, Aristotle was invaluable, however this was secondary to his own dialectic and in some cases he treats purported implications as if Plato had actually mentioned them, or even defended them. In examining Aristotle's criticism of The Forms, it is helpful to understand Aristotle's own hylomorphic forms, by which he intends to salvage much of Plato's theory.

In the summary passage quoted above[44] Plato distinguishes between real and non-real "existing things", where the latter term is used of substance. The figures that the artificer places in the gold are not substance, but gold is. Aristotle stated that, for Plato, all things studied by the sciences have Form and asserted that Plato considered only substance to have Form. Uncharitably, this leads him to something like a contradiction: Forms existing as the objects of science, but not-existing as non-substance. Scottish philosopher W.D. Ross objects to this as a mischaracterization of Plato.[45]

Plato did not claim to know where the line between Form and non-Form is to be drawn. As Cornford points out,[46] those things about which the young Socrates (and Plato) asserted "I have often been puzzled about these things"[47] (in reference to Man, Fire and Water), appear as Forms in later works. However, others do not, such as Hair, Mud, Dirt. Of these, Socrates is made to assert, "it would be too absurd to suppose that they have a Form."

Ross[45]

In the summary passage quoted above[44] Plato distinguishes between real and non-real "existing things", where the latter term is used of substance. The figures that the artificer places in the gold are not substance, but gold is. Aristotle stated that, for Plato, all things studied by the sciences have Form and asserted that Plato considered only substance to have Form. Uncharitably, this leads him to something like a contradiction: Forms existing as the objects of science, but not-existing as non-substance. Scottish philosopher W.D. Ross objects to this as a mischaracterization of Plato.[45]

Plato did not claim to know where the line between Form and non-Form is to be drawn. As Cornford points out,[46] those things about which the young Socrates (and Plato) asserted "I have often been puzzled about these things"[47] (in reference to Man, Fire and Water), appear as Forms in later works. However, others do not, such as Hair, Mud, Dirt. Of these, Socrates is made to assert, "it would be too absurd to suppose that they have a Form."

Ross[45] also objects to Aristotle's criticism that Form Otherness accounts for the differences between Forms and purportedly leads to contradictory forms: the Not-tall, the Not-beautiful, etc. That particulars participate in a Form is for Aristotle much too vague to permit analysis. By one way in which he unpacks the concept, the Forms would cease to be of one essence due to any multiple participation. As Ross indicates, Plato didn't make that leap from "A is not B" to "A is Not-B." Otherness would only apply to its own particulars and not to those of other Forms. For example, there is no Form Not-Greek, only particulars of Form Otherness that somehow suppress Form Greek.

Regardless of whether Socrates meant the particulars of Otherness yield Not-Greek, Not-tall, Not-beautiful, etc., the particulars would operate specifically rather than generally, each somehow yielding only one exclusion.

Plato had postulated that we know Forms through a remembrance of the soul's past lives and Aristotle's arguments against this treatment of epistemology are compelling. For Plato, particulars somehow do not exist, and, on the face of it, "that which is non-existent cannot be known".[48] See Metaphysics III 3–4.[49]

Nominalism (from Latin nomen, "name") says that ideal universals are mere names, human creations; the blueness shared by sky and blue jeans is a shared concept, communicated by our word "blueness". Blueness is held not to have any existence beyond that which it has in instances of blue things.[50] This concept arose in the Middle Ages,[51] as part of Scholasticism.

Scholasticism was a highly multinational, polyglottal school of philosophy, and the nominalist argument may be more obvious if an example is given in more than one language. For instance, colour terms are strongly variable by language; some languages consider blue and

Scholasticism was a highly multinational, polyglottal school of philosophy, and the nominalist argument may be more obvious if an example is given in more than one language. For instance, colour terms are strongly variable by language; some languages consider blue and green the same colour, others have monolexemic terms for several shades of blue, which are considered different; other, like the Mandarin qing denote both blue and black. The German word "Stift" means a pen or a pencil, and also anything of the same shape. English does not have such a word. The English "pencil" originally meant "small paintbrush"; the term later included the silver rod used for silverpoint. The German "Bleistift" and "Silberstift" can both be called "Stift", but this term also includes felt-tip pens, which are clearly not pencils.

The shifting and overlapping nature of these concepts makes it easy to imagine them as mere names, with meanings not rigidly defined, but specific enough to be useful for communication. Given a group of objects, how is one to decide if it contains only instances of a single Form, or several mutually-exclusive Forms?

The theory is presented in the following dialogues:[52]

71–81, 85–86: The discovery (or "recollection") of knowledge as latent in the soul, pointing forward to the theory of Forms
389–390: The archetype as used by crafts