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Plato, knowledge and virtue
Michael Lacewing
[email protected]
© Michael Lacewing
The Forms
Form of Beauty
The Forms
• Good things are not the same as goodness (Form of
the Good).
– If all good things were destroyed, this wouldn’t destroy
goodness itself.
• Forms don’t exist in any particular place or time.
• Forms don’t change.
• Forms are perfect examples (nothing is more good
than goodness itself).
Sense experience
• All objects of
experience are
particular things.
• All particular things are
both one thing, e.g.
large, beautiful, good,
and the opposite.
• If something is both X
and not-X, then we
can’t know that it is X.
Knowing the Forms
• The Form of beauty is beautiful under all
conditions, to all observers, at all times.
• The Form of beauty is pure beauty; it (alone) is not
both beautiful and not beautiful.
• Therefore, we can have knowledge of the Forms,
though not through our senses.
• The highest knowledge is knowledge of the Form of
the Good: it is from the good that ‘things that are
just and so on derive their usefulness and value… Is
there any point in having these other forms of
knowledge without that of the good…?’ (505a-b)
The simile of the sun
The visible world
The intelligible world
The sun
The Form of the Good
The eye
The mind (reason)
To see
To know
The being (reality) of
the Forms
The Form of the Good
• Just as sun is the source of light and the source of
sight, the Form of the Good ‘gives the objects of
knowledge [the Forms] their truth and the knower’s
mind the power of knowing’ (508a).
• Just as the sun is cause of growth, the Form of the
Good is the source of the very being of knowable
objects (509b)
• Reality is related to goodness: knowledge of what
something is is knowledge of what it is for it to be a
good example of its kind.
• If you know goodness, you will be good.
• Just as an eye can’t be turned unless the whole
body is turned, so the whole mind must be
turned to be able to see the Forms.
• The love of wisdom subdues other desires
(physical pleasure, greed, fear).
• The philosopher ‘assimilates’ himself to what he
enjoys, viz. the Form of the Good.
• How does such abstract knowledge help
practically? Plato never says.
• How does the philosopher become good? Why
would knowledge alone make one good?
• Plato argues that philosophers are prone to
corruption, influenced by praise.
• So philosophy only produces virtue in a
virtuous society.