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An Introduction to Plato's Theory of Forms

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 July 2016

David Sedley*
Affiliation:
Christ's College, Cambridge

Abstract

This lecture was designed as an introduction to Plato's theory of Forms. Reference is made to key passages of Plato's dialogues, but no guidance on further reading is offered, and numerous controversies about the theory's interpretation are left in the background. An initial sketch of the theory's origins in the inquiries of Plato's teacher Socrates is followed by an explanation of the Forms’ primary characteristic, Plato's metaphysical separation of them from the sensible world. Other aspects discussed include the Forms’ metaphysical relation to sensible particulars, their ‘self-predication’, and the range of items that have Forms. Finally, the envisaged structure of the world of Forms is illustrated by a look at Plato's famous Cave simile.

Type
Papers
Copyright
Copyright © The Royal Institute of Philosophy and the contributors 2016 

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References

1 Hence I have not attempted on this occasion to provide any guide to the massive bibliography on Plato's metaphysics, an addition which would have at least doubled the length of the paper.

2 Meno 81a-86c; Phaedo 72e-77a; Phaedrus 249b-250b.

3 Phaedo 74a-c.

4 Euthyphro 7b-d.

5 Laches 192a-b, Meno 74b-75c.

6 Republic 7.537b-d, 539d-e.

7 See esp. Symposium 211a, Rep.5.479a-b.

8 Phaedo 102b-103a.

9 Parmenides 150c-d.

10 My thanks to audiences at the Royal Institute of Philosophy, London, in December 2014 and at Washington University, St Louis, in March 2015, for their probing questions.

3
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