Plato was an immensely influential classical Greek philosopher who live between 427-347BC, he was the student of Socrates and the teacher of Aristotle who went on to write a critique about Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and his theory of the forms. Plato often takes on the persona of Socrates because when Socrates died he left much of his work unfinished so Plato tried to finish them, we mainly see him in the persona of Socrates when in his dialogues.
Plato has been described as an idealistic dualist according to metaphysics; this is because even though Plato focused most of his work on the spiritual side of life, but in the Form of the Good he didn’t just focus on the spiritual side but on the materialistic side of things, such as the body and things like money etc. this is known in metaphysics as materialism. Plato also greatly focused on, what was reality, and how could we tell what was real from what was a mere distorted image of true reality. This is what the theory of the Form of the Good is about, and what intends to answer what reality is.
To try and establish what reality actually is Plato wrote one of his most famous dialogues where he is writing or discussing in the persona of Socrates and talking with Glaucon another Greek Philosopher who was interested in the work of Socrates. This dialogue is commonly known as the Allegory of the Cave (also known as ‘the Simile of the Cave’ or ‘the Analogy of the Cave’ but they are all the same thing), this dialogue is a representative – as the title or it suggests – of Plato’s ‘Theory of the Forms’.
In this allegory Plato talks about the – in metaphorical terms of course -difference between the reality as we know it and the truth of reality, which is in the World of Forms. The World of the Forms is to be ‘seeing the light’ as such, and those of us who are in the shadows don’t know what true reality is, but can gain it with the help of those who have ‘seen the light’ who aid us in rediscovering our knowledge that we possessed in the place before we were born but lost at birth.
What we see down in the shadows is a distortion of reality, but until we reach the World of the Forms we will remain to see the distorted reality. In our world everything is made in from the ‘Form of the Good’, the Form of the Good being the ideal form of everything that is in existence in our world, the ‘World of Appearances’. 1The Form of the Good (often interpreted as Plato’s God), which is the ultimate object of knowledge and which as it were sheds light on all the other forms and from which all other forms “emanate.
The Form of the Good does this in somewhat the same way as the sun sheds light on, or makes visible and “generates,” things in the perceptual world. For example, if you take cats, there are hundreds of different breeds of cats, such as Burmese, Tabby, Tortoise Shell, Minx, Short Hair Feline, Long Haired Feline and so on, but one thing they all have in common is that they are all made in the ideal form of the Cat, which, as silly as it may sound, is in the sky, so all the cats on the World of the Appearances are made in the image of Form of the good, which is the ideal form of the ultimate cat in the sky.
Given that Plato was born pre-Christianity, thus pre-Jesus, he didn’t believe in God as we know him, yet the modern interpretation of the Form of the Good is that the Form of the Good for humans is actually God, which is the ultimate being which everyone strives to be like, which is basically the concept.
However, for us to strive for the Form of the Good we need re-gain our knowledge from the time before we were born, when our spirits were in the World of the Forms, but at birth we forget all the knowledge that we once knew, but by the few philosophers who have got into the World of the Forms can aid us, normal people, into remembering the knowledge we once knew in the World of the Forms, but only when we truly understand the World of the Forms can we appreciate it and be in harmony within it.
In the theory of the forms there is not only the form of the good but the forms themselves, which are Beauty, Truth and Justice; they are of course all derived from the Form of the Good, and are all connected to each other. To answer the question of ‘What is Reality’ using the theory of the forms and answer would look somewhat like this: for Plato what is real it what is in the World of the Forms, the world that we live in now is a mere reflection of true reality, of which is in the World of the Forms.
For us to know true reality we have to have knowledge of it. So to conclude, the theory of the forms is basically the analogy of the cave, the fire is the representative for the sun and the reflections off the water are like our beliefs, like God and religion etc. he men chained to the cave wall represent us as humans, in the shadows unaware of true reality that exists beyond our own world as we know it; but the man that escapes from the shadow is like someone dieing and getting to know the world of the forms, gradually he become accustomed to it, which is what it is like when we go to heaven or wherever one believes that we go to when we die, it takes time to adjust, time to realise how to live in such a world of beauty.
It has been believe that Plato was actually writing not only in the person of Socrates but his death and Socrates theory of the division between truth and falsehood in his life and others. So in short, the World of the Forms is a world which is about truth, beauty and justice; it is the true world separate from our world but one that it more true than our world and something that we have to grow to learn about and gain knowledge about through the aid of others.