Characterise And Assess Plato's Theory Of Forms/Essences In The First Half Of The Phaedo (Up To 95e).

2848 words - 11 pages

Plato's TombEAGLE! Why soarest thou above that tomb?To what sublime and star-ypaven homeFloatest thou? -I am the image of swift Plato's spirit,Ascending heaven; Athens doth inheritHis corpse below.P. B. Shelley. (1)Plato's Phaedo is a work that stands proud amongst the great works of Greek literature. The serenity of Socrates as he spends his last few hours before he drinks the hemlock is admirable. The theme of friendship is deeply moving. Even the admiration of the jailor for Socrates beautifully illustrates, what is, a moving and extremely touching work. (2) That it is a wonderful piece of pure literature is beyond doubt, yet it also contains a wealth of philosophical material. The central theme in the Phaedo is the immortality of the soul. Subordinate to this claim yet ubiquitous throughout the text is Plato's theory of Forms and it is in this dialogue that they are given their first formulisation. The enquiry of Socrates and his interlocutors in Plato's early dialogues (especially Charmides, Laches, Euthyphro and Hippias Major) into the nature of essences are further developed in this dialogue and it is these very developments that will be discussed in this paper. In analysing the developments of Plato's theory of Forms it is essential to determine what views Plato is committed to, and from that, what reading it is possible to take - the 'traditional' or 'transcendent idealist'.(3) The 'traditional' reading of Plato's forms put the emphasis on its metaphysical claims rather than epistemological. The 'transcendent idealist' reading on the other hand stresses that the opposite is the case - the theory of Forms is a theory about knowledge, and, as a side effect, also has metaphysical claims. In dealing with these issues it shall become clear that a definite conclusion cannot be found within the covers of Plato's Phaedo, rather, an analyses of Plato's other later works is needed.In Plato's early dialogues the seed of the theory of Forms can be found. The Charmides asks 'what is temperance?', the Laches 'what is courage?', the Euthyphro 'what is piety?', and the Hippias Major 'what is beauty?' To ask such a question implies that there is one for which a word 'beauty' stands and this thing is different from any of the things we apply the word 'beauty' too. In the Laches after discussing examples of courage, Socrates asks, 'what is it that, being in all these things, is the same?' This implies that there is something that is the same; that there is a real thing and not merely a thought of 'courage', and that this is one thing and not several. While this is mainly a search for essences, that is, what is it to be such and such; it also has metaphysical and epistemological significance. Whether or not Plato was aware of this while writing these early dialogues is not in the scope of this essay to answer. At least implicitly these claims can be taken from these texts. Issues regarding the dating of the texts and development of the Forms are widely...

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