Suppose Plato finally has knowledge of the "forms"* he set out to find after some time (remember knowledge). One day his soul departs to for the soul realm. When he reaches, the "forms" welcome his senses (please assume that we maintain our senses after death and the fact there is an afterlife).

Tell me, does Plato learn anything new about the "forms" when he reaches the soul realm?

* Forms, as I understand them, are like the mold of the gingerbread men. Gingerbread men can have parts of their bodies broken. But the mold has the shape of the gingerbread men, it stays as it is, perfect as ever.


5 Answers 5


I'm not sure Plato directly answers this question, but the dialogs clearly suggest the answer is yes. Plato frequently uses the metaphor of traveling closer or further away from the divine, immortal realm of perfection sometimes characterized as the Realm of the Forms. For example, in the "Allegory of the Cave", from The Republic, the mental journey towards apprehending the truly Good, Beautiful and True is described as traveling upwards from a dark cave towards the sunlight.

For Plato, everything earthly and fleshly is intrinsically corrupt, the closer you get to pure mind and pure soul, the closer you are to the Realm of the Forms. This closeness is equivalent to greater knowledge --the geographical distance is just a metaphor for the mental journey. It's easy to extrapolate that Plato would probably agree that you can't ever perfectly apprehend the Good, the Beautiful and the True, or any of the other Forms, as long as you are held back by your body. Once you shed your flesh, your pure soul should therefore be able to get much closer to the Forms, which means knowing them more fully and truly. St. Paul echoes this same concept in a Christian context in a famous passage from his First Letter to the Corinthians. "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know fully, even as also I am fully known."

It's worth noting that (as Jo and Colin have correctly pointed out in their own separate answers) that for Plato, all true learning is really "remembering." That is to say, true knowledge can neither be created or destroyed, just remembered or forgotten. So the soul isn't really learning anything "new" either on earth or in heaven, it's just remembering less or more of what it already knows about the forms.

  • 1
    Thanks for connecting with new testament. Expanded in my answer
    – Rushi
    Commented Aug 6, 2019 at 17:13

When the Soul wants to experience something she throws out an image in front of her and then steps into it. Meister Eckhart

There's an issue with your question. You say "his soul" ie "Plato's soul". Analogous to

  • Plato's arm
  • Plato's head
  • Plato's Greek passport (so to say)
  • Plato's wife
  • even Plato's mind

All these suggest something subsidiary to something more essentially Plato.

So if Plato's soul belongs to something more Plato-ish than itself then that should be the soul more than the soul – A contradiction don't you think??

The problem with your gingerbread-men analogy is that it's ok as a metaphor but its connotations are backwards: The mold is something hollow without substance whereas (platonic) forms are quite literally the soul of the thing.

So when Plato talks of the "form of beauty" what it means is

  • I see some-thing beautiful
  • The beauty is inextricably attached to that thing...
  • ...in my mind

What would/could it be to know that beauty directly

  • without that thing
  • without the seeing (perception)
  • without even the mind


It seems (to me) Plato's (heaven of) forms and Jesus kingdom-of-heaven are about the same, especially when you consider

  • "the kingdom of heaven is within you"
  • the forms are reached through (highly purified) Reason

both of which could be subsumed under "kingdom-of-the-soul"

Plato's soul (as I guess yours and mine) is the real "form of Plato" and so always inhabits the world/heaven of its essence-ial nature.

So while this does not answer your question it addresses the related question that @Chrissunami raises: What constitutes coming closer/further from the Divine?

The confusion in your question is essentially the human condition: We have forgotten who we are

  • I know my body is my body therefore not me... But pain and still more fear-of-death make it me.
  • Likewise I know my mind is subject to delusions/confusions. Yet when most deluded I am most identified!
  • I have ample evidence that the senses deceive yet I insistently disregard the evidence of their fallibility and believe their fallible evidence – viz. the (external) world.

The way back as Socrates said was Know thyself ; Ie to keep returning : This is not me... Who am I?

  • You mean that our souls also may originate from something more "real",as in a ""form" of a "form"?Also yeah can epistemology help find out whether or not we can ""recollect" knowledge without any tools to "retrieve" knowledge ie reason,senses .
    – user40679
    Commented Aug 7, 2019 at 2:31
  • @user40679 Can't figure out your first sentence. Second is v interesting...but can't really be dealt with in comments... Or even (stackexchange) answers. Books maybe better. Meditation even better😇
    – Rushi
    Commented Aug 7, 2019 at 2:49
  • @user40679 I've added a quote of Meister Eckhart
    – Rushi
    Commented Aug 7, 2019 at 3:34
  • That means the ideal circles in the soul realm may conform to another ideal-er circle.Come to think of it Platonism can support theories on our world as a computer simulation.
    – user40679
    Commented Aug 7, 2019 at 3:52
  • 'How can meditation help?'Do you study religions?
    – user40679
    Commented Aug 7, 2019 at 3:54

Some priests and priestesses who have thought a great deal about explaining their concerns, say that our souls are immortal. A soul will come to an end which is called dying, but at another time be born again, so it never perishes. Since each soul is immortal, each of us has already seen the things you talk about, and actually has acquired knowledge of all there is, but while being born on earth we forget them. So when Socrates, or any of us, sees these things you describe in your question, he (or we) recollects them. We call this learning, but it is better called recollection.

I am not willing to say this must be true. But I will insist we will be better and braver people if we persist in inquiring into it.

One way to pursue that inquiry would be to read Plato's Meno, especially pages 81 and 86 (in terms of the "Stephanus" page numbers printed in the margins of the better editions of Plato's dialogues).


No, Plato did not learn anything new about forms during his life on earth.

According to Plato, he learned everything about forms when dwelling in a pre-existent form in the realm of forms. Moving around in the realm of forms, he became familiar with forms by intuition - a mysterious capability, described by Plato using a metaphorical language.

Plato did not learn about forms by making any experience triggered by sensual input. It is just the other way around: After Plato got the intuition of forms in his pre-existent life, he was able to recognize objects with the corresponding properties during his life on earth.

  • 1
    Hi Jo. While this answer is correct as to Plato's views, I think it misunderstands the original question. The OP doesn't ask if Plato learns anything new about forms on earth, but whether Plato learns new things about the forms after death. Commented Aug 7, 2019 at 13:05

The opening answer is probing and suggestive. I'd suggest, though, that while Plato's view of knowledge (of the Forms) as recollection is a principal theme in the Meno it does not inform his theory of knowledge elsewhere except at Phaedo (74a5-7 & 74b2-4). I write as always subject to correction.

The same answer raises the possibility that even the knowledge of the Forms attained by the philosophers in the Republic (esp. VII.531d-536c) is genuine, it may still be incomplete through the intellect's contaminated connexion with the body. A real possibility. Matters are not helped from Plato's side by the fact that nobody in the Republic actually has any knowledge of the Forms. We have only a programme for gaining such knowledge.

Plato is silent on the matter but a purer knowledge of the Forms may well be possible to the disemboded soul after death than to the soul of the living, bound as it is to the body as an oyster to its shell (Phaedrus, 250c).

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