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I have a suspicion that Plato took his idea of the "perfect world" a little bit too far. He said that the material world is something that we experience with our senses, but is also an imperfect representation of the "perfect" form of what everything is. The only access we have to this perfect world is through our minds, like when we see the many variations of trees in the world (to give a very particular example), we still recognise them as trees. It isn't like we have a different recognition of what each of those tree types actually are, and whether or not they can be perceived as something completely different, so we recognise them all as a "tree". This "tree" is an idea in our minds which is our only (and very limited) connection to the ideal world, as we use this idea universally to recognise all types of tree. But isn't this idea of a perfect world a little bit absurd? Isn't it simply that the human mind uses packets of information (schemas) to encode and condense the vast amounts of information in this world so that we can understand what it all actually is?

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  • What you're describing in your last sentence is a perfectly valid view. But why would you suppose that that wasn't exactly what Plato was getting at? The whole point of Plato's theory of the forms could easily be construed in a phenomenological light: it is as if there is some eternally existing realm of ideas of which this world is a mere shadow. Saying this is merely descriptive of the way human beings experience the world and how they think, not so much about how the world really is, since this latter statement could easily be misconstrued, especially in our scientific-positivistic age.
    – RP_
    Jun 4 '17 at 0:16
  • Thank you for replying, if I'm right, what you are saying is that I am describing how humans think, not the way that the world really is, correct?
    – F. Munden
    Jun 4 '17 at 9:01
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human mind uses packets of information (schemas) to encode and condense the vast amounts of information

From where those packets of information come to human minds? Isn't it that we sense the sensible things in this world and we recognize them by their ideal. How do we recognize a straight line? Is there any real perfect straight line in this world? No, we recognize the straight line in this world because once we have grasped the absolute perfect line before we are born, and now we are only remembering it.

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  • Any body of water that is at rest forms an horizontal surface with a straight line (earth roundness being perceptible only from higher altitudes). Any plumb bob, any tensed thread forms a straight line. How come we need to go to school to "remember" geometry if we know it since before conception ? By which process do we remember it without a brain?
    – armand
    Jan 5 at 6:49
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    Think deeper @armand , no plumb bob or tensed thread has ever made a really straight line in this world, if you tense a thread and look closer to it you see that it has a portion of crookedness, but we call it straight only because it resembles straight. You need school because your teacher helps you to remember it just as Socrates helped Meno's slave to remember a proposition of geometry. Definitely you remember it by your brain, because your brain is an intermediate to connect you to the world of the Absolute.
    – user35838
    Jan 5 at 7:04
  • Have you ever looked at a plumb bob or even water ? You haven't answered my questions but by reasserting the same baseless claim.
    – armand
    Jan 5 at 7:37
  • A ray of light through the clouds, maybe ? There are straight lines everywhere. Just look.
    – armand
    Jan 5 at 7:45
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    I invite you to read some Plato so that it may help you see the world as it is not as it resembles.
    – user35838
    Jan 5 at 7:51
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Your interpretation --the Forms are just conceptual schemas --is a typical and common one for our times. Idealism has long been on the wane, and the idea of perfect Reality deeper than our own is decidedly out of vogue.

In the case that you're ascribing your view to Plato, however, you're in error. While there may be a lot of disagreement over what Plato actually meant by his Theory of Forms, and how literally he intended it, it's uncontroversial that he considered mundane material reality to be largely illusory. Whatever he meant by the Forms, it was NOT just a conceptual shorthand for him. Where the modern materialist worldview considers greater abstraction to be a marker of greater distance from actual reality, Plato believed the opposite.

Interestingly enough, challenges to Plato's idealism began as early as his student Aristotle, who famously had a more pragmatic view of reality (as dramatized in the well-known painting that shows Plato pointing to the sky, and Aristotle to the ground).

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