• the Form of a square
  • the Form of an incorrectly-drawn square
  • the Form of an episode of anime
  • the Form of an episode of anime that makes a person sad

Seem like nonsense to me. When I was introduced to the theory of Forms, it seemed like there ought to be a Form for everything, and that Forms are perfect and absolute. Everything in the real world is an imperfect imitation of its Form.

But I don't think this can be what Plato's theory actually is. What would 'the Form of art' even mean?

There is a hierarchy of Forms, so I am an imperfect imitation of the Form of a person which may derive (how?) from the Form of life, eventually originating from the Form of the Good.

But then Forms aren't perfect, because in-between me and the Form of a person is the Form of theonlygusti, and I am a perfect replica of that. What is a Form really?

  • "there ought to be a Form for everything, and that Forms are perfect and absolute. Everything in the real world is an imperfect imitation of its Form" is right, this is what Plato meant, see SEP, Plato's central doctrines. The form of art is what makes art art, its reified essence open to intellectual contemplation. Forms are perfect and nothing sensible is a replica of them, only defective imitation, and there is nothing in between either. It only seems like nonsense because of our more cynical and nominalistic attitudes today.
    – Conifold
    Nov 7, 2020 at 23:44
  • @Conifold how am I an imperfect imitation of the form that represents me?
    – minseong
    Nov 7, 2020 at 23:50
  • This is a bit simplistic of an analogy but think of 'genus' and 'species' where genus is the 'form' which 'gives' the individual within a species it's shape.
    – user37981
    Nov 7, 2020 at 23:59
  • Well, unless you are a perfect human being then you are one of many imperfect copies. What Plato was getting at is that we use words like "horse" and concepts like "justice" that refer to many particular instantiations of that idea or Form. But we do not see this generalized Form itself. And since our senses are unreliable, how do we ever come up with something like "horse" and also seem certain there are "better" or "worse instances of "horseness." Why, how? But most readers thinks Plato did modify and eventually abandon his theory of Forms, perhaps for something like the reasons you give. Nov 8, 2020 at 0:02
  • 1
    @gonzo It is defending charity, not specific ideas. Plato's forms may not be viable, but the reasons why are nothing simple or obvious. If it seems otherwise it is a sign of insufficient thinking. "Dismantling" has to be earned by honest toil, not acquired on the cheap via halfreadings and misreadings, incredulous stares, caricatured interpretations or superficial objections that are easily rebutted. The "barbarianism", as I see it, stems from casual handling and easy acceptance/dismissal of ideas, whatever they might be, not from establishing/dismantling any system of ideas in particular.
    – Conifold
    Nov 8, 2020 at 21:15

1 Answer 1


Forms represent the common part of many varied things. In Socrates' speech in the Symposium, he explains how to discover the form of beauty: looking at one beautiful thing, then another, at last you should be able to see what is common to them all, that is, beauty itself, not a particular beautiful thing.

Thus, there is no form of any particular beautiful person. There is a form of beauty that beautiful people draw on. Nor could there be an infinite number of forms for an infinite number of conceivable people. As demonstrated in Parmenides (in a different context), the existence of an infinite number of forms is fatal to the theory. There is no reason to believe that an infinite number of forms is the source of an infinite number of sensible things; everything that exists has to be attributable to a finite number of forms for the theory to have any explanatory power. There can't be a form for everything. We see this again at the very end of Timaeus, where the different types of animals are derived from only four different forms.

Nor could there be a form of an imperfectly-drawn square. The forms are perfect. When a person draws a square imperfectly, he is thinking about the perfect square but failing to make an exact imitation of it. The forms of the shapes are described in Timaeus. Triangles are said to be the source of solids and even the elements. These are not imperfectly-drawn triangles, but perfect triangles. So the form of an imperfectly-drawn square doesn't make sense. An imperfectly-drawn square is just that, a shape that is not drawn accurately according to the standard of the perfect square. Its existence is only in the sensible world, as an imitation of the perfect square that can be perceived in the mind. We can see the form of the square by looking at the "squareness" of things that resemble this perfect square, which reminds us of the square that is already known to the soul, according to Plato's doctrine that all knowledge is recollection (in Phaedo and elsewhere).

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