The Theory of Ideas and Formsby Aristotle
The supporters of the Idea theory were led to it to answer the truth of things. They accepted the Heraclitean sayings which describe all sensible things as ever passing away. If knowledge or thought is to have an object, there must be some other and permanent entities, apart from those which are sensible. There could be no knowledge of things which were in a state of flux.
Socrates occupied himself with the excellences of character and became the first to raise the problem of universal definition.
The physicists Democritus only touched on the subject to a small extent. He defined hot and cold.
The Pythagoreans previously defined things by connecting them with numbers= e.g. those of opportunity, justice, or marriage
Socrates was seeking the essence because he was seeking to syllogize, and ‘what a thing is’ is the starting-point of syllogisms.
The dialectical power enables people even without knowledge of the essence to:
- speculate about contraries and
- inquire whether the same science deals with contraries.
This power did not exist then.
These two things were fairly ascribed to Socrates:
- inductive arguments
- universal definition
Both of these are concerned with the starting-point of science. But Socrates did not separate the universals or the definitions.
The Pythagoreans, however, separated them as ‘Ideas’.
- There must be Ideas of all things
It was as if a man wanted to count something. But since they were few, they could not be counted. And so he makes more of them just to be able to count them.
The Forms are more numerous than the particular sensible things. Seeking the causes of the things led them to the Forms.
Each thing has an entity which has the same name and exists apart from the substances. In the case of all other groups, there is a one over many, whether these be of this world or eternal.
I am not convinced of the existence of Forms. From some, no inference necessarily follows. From some, arise Forms even of things of which they think there are no Forms.
They say that there will be Forms of all things of which there are sciences. Thus, the argument of ‘one over many’ implies:
- that there will be Forms of negations
- that thought has an object when the individual object has perished
- that there will be Forms of perishable things for we have an image of these
Some lead to Ideas of relations, of which they say there is no independent class, and others introduce the ’third man’.
The arguments for the Forms destroy things for whose existence the believers in Forms are more zealous than for the existence of the Ideas. It follows that not the dyad but number is first, and that prior to number is the relative, and that this is prior to the absolute-besides all the other points on which certain people, by following out the opinions held about the Forms, came into conflict with the principles of the theory.
They say that there will be Forms of substances and also of many other things. The concept is single not only in the case of substances, but also in that of non-substances. There are sciences of other things than substance; and a thousand other such difficulties confront them.
But according to the necessities of the case and the opinions about the Forms, if they can be shared in there must be Ideas of substances only. For they are not shared in incidentally, but each Form must be shared in as something not predicated of a subject.
(By ‘being shared in incidentally’ I mean that if a thing shares in ‘double itself’, it shares also in ’eternal’, but incidentally; for ’the double’ happens to be eternal.) Therefore the Forms will be substance. But the same names indicate substance in this and in the ideal world (or what will be the meaning of saying that there is something apart from the particulars-the one over many?). And if the Ideas and the things that share in them have the same form, there will be something common= for why should ‘2’ be one and the same in the perishable 2’s, or in the 2’s which are many but eternal, and not the same in the ‘2 itself’ as in the individual 2? But if they have not the same form, they will have only the name in common, and it is as if one were to call both Callias and a piece of wood a ‘man’, without observing any community between them.
But if we are to suppose that in other respects the common definitions apply to the Forms, e.g. that ‘plane figure’ and the other parts of the definition apply to the circle itself, but ‘what really is’ has to be added, we must inquire whether this is not absolutely meaningless. For to what is this to be added? To ‘centre’ or to ‘plane’ or to all the parts of the definition?
For all the elements in the essence are Ideas, e.g. ‘animal’ and ’two-footed’. Further, there must be some Ideal answering to ‘plane’ above, some nature which will be present in all the Forms as their genus.