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Old December 31st, 2017, 08:26 AM   #1
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Plato's Forms: Airplanes?


I wonder how Plato's theory of forms would apply to how a person perceives something he has never seen before. For example, had a person come from a culture where chairs do not exist, or for that matter, for Plato himself, where say airplanes did not exist. How would he explain the form basis for the perception of something that one has no idea what it is??
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Old December 31st, 2017, 10:02 AM   #2

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Plato: Oh look! Is that a petrified bird?
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Old December 31st, 2017, 10:49 AM   #3
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Plato might look at a 747 and see a cylinder, parts of spheres and other combinations of basic geometric forms. He would recognize the horizontal symmetry and lack of vertical symmetry (like most higher life forms).
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Old December 31st, 2017, 11:14 AM   #4
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But what about the evocation of an "ideal" airplane whereby his philosophy assumed that everyone relates to it? It is culturally dependent.
Do you mean Stevev that they would evoke the ideal form of whatever they thought they DID see based on their experience, and doesn't Plato assume it is culturally dependent?
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Old January 5th, 2018, 09:09 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Duvduv View Post
But what about the evocation of an "ideal" airplane whereby his philosophy assumed that everyone relates to it? It is culturally dependent.
Do you mean Stevev that they would evoke the ideal form of whatever they thought they DID see based on their experience, and doesn't Plato assume it is culturally dependent?
I don't think Plato considered the ideal airplane. He considered a basic set of geometric solids which he assumed are not culturally dependent.

Asked how he would view an airplane, I suggested what might see in an abstract sense. By abstraction you subtract detail in favor of generalization. I gave the example of an airplane having a bilateral horizontal symmetry but lacking vertical symmetry which is also characteristic of animals with bilateral symmetry. That doesn't mean he would think an airplane is an animal if ever saw one, although the thought might cross his mind before he did a little investigation.
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Old June 24th, 2018, 08:48 PM   #6

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Duvduv View Post
I wonder how Plato's theory of forms would apply to how a person perceives something he has never seen before. For example, had a person come from a culture where chairs do not exist, or for that matter, for Plato himself, where say airplanes did not exist. How would he explain the form basis for the perception of something that one has no idea what it is??
I don't know how I would begin to answer this question since there's so much to consider. First, Plato didn't pay much attention to culture, he also for the most part thought that man-made artifacts were natural kinds, and he famously argues that learning is a kind of remembering of innate knowledge. So at least for now, for simplicity's sake, I'm going to tackle the alternative and more approachable question of "did Plato believe there was a ideal Form of an airplane?" and explain why the answer to this question is going to vary depending on who you ask, and why there probably is never going to be a definitive answer.

The first thing we have to understand is that Plato expounds three different "flavors" of his theory of Forms throughout his oeuvre. The first "flavor" we find in the early dialogue Phaedo where he (through Socrates) makes no attempt to define what Forms are, but that he believes there are Forms such as Piety, Equality, Beauty, Goodness, etc. If we only had the Phaedo to go off of the answer to the question would probably be "no". However, once we get to the Republic, a middle dialogue written after the Phaedo, he gives the more illuminating answer (the second "flavor"):

Quote:
We customarily hypothesize a single form in connection with each of the many things to which we apply the same name. ... For example, there are many beds and tables. ... But there are only two forms of such furniture, one of the bed and one of the table. (Republic 596a-b)
In other words, whenever we have a name that designates a bunch of different things, there is a corresponding Form. Here he posits the existence of Forms corresponding to artifacts as well as moral, philosophical, mathematical, etc. properties. If we take this passage to reflect what Plato actually believed (which it certainly doesn’t), then the answer to the question would be "yes". But when we move onto later dialogues we see, notably in the Statesman, Parmenides, and also the Theaetetus, Plato encounter certain problems of the theory as it is vaguely presented in the Republic. In the Statesman Plato refines his theory of forms and tells us that there are no Forms corresponding to words that do not reflect a justified groups of things, for example he rejects the classification of people into Greeks and non-Greeks, i.e. barbarians (262c-e). Thus he asserts we are not allowed to merely invent words denoting arbitrary groupings of things. If we stop at this point (the third "flavor") then we might assume that Plato still believes that artifacts are indeed natural kinds, but that not all words necessarily denote natural kinds. However, once we come to the Parmenides we encounter some problematic issues; we find a series of sophisticated criticisms to the theory of Forms which receive no explicit answer in this or any other known dialogue. One of these criticisms (the most important one, at least according to Aristotle) asserts that if there is a justification for positing a single Form of, say, Largeness, then there is an equal justification for positing another Form containing all large things in addition to Largeness, ad infinitum. Or put another way:

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The reason for positing the "first" Form of Largeness is that whenever a number of things are large, there must be a single Form by virtue of which they are large; but now when we consider that Form of Largeness together with those large things, there must be a further Form of Largeness, by virtue of which the large things and Largeness Itself are large; the process by which we recognize "new" Forms of Largeness can be repeated indefinitely, and so there is no one Form of Largeness, contrary to our initial hypothesis. (Cambridge Companion to Plato, p18)
Because there is no response, it is at this point that we must get into some knotty issues of interpretation, and a few possibilities open up, none of which lead us to a definitive answer. First, if we appeal to the Seventh Letter and subscribe to the theory of Plato’s so-called unwritten doctrines, we might argue that Plato never put down his true theory of forms and we must piece it together doxographically, if we can find it at all. Alternatively, there is the possibility that the Plato eventually abandoned the theory of forms altogether, or perhaps replaced it with a theory of something he came to regard as more elemental than the Form. Matters of interpretation are complicated by questions such as why are Plato’s dialogues riddled with so many fallacies? Are the dialogues meant to be read as treatises, or read (or even performed) as plays, or as something between the two? In other words, were the dialogues primarily didactic in function (remember, Plato did open up an academy), or were they meant to be finished dissertations? There is also the issue of Plato’s wavering use of the term eidos which he sometimes uses in his special technical sense and sometimes uses in a casual and natural sense. At any rate, I could go on but I imagine most people will have either abandoned reading this post before they have gotten to this part or will have skipped to the end, and I think I have demonstrated my point anyway.

Last edited by Nickname; June 24th, 2018 at 09:26 PM. Reason: Quoting OP + italicizing
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