Philosophy of Religion

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Plato’s Form of Good

Plato believed that the Forms were interrelated, and arranged in a hierarchy. The highest Form is the Form of the Good, which is the ultimate principle.

Plato's hierarchy of forms

Like the Sun in the Allegory of the Cave, the Good illuminates the other Forms. We can see that Justice, for example, is an aspect of Goodness. And again, we know that we have never seen, with our senses, any examples of perfect goodness, but we have seen plenty of particular examples which approximate goodness, and we recognise them as ‘good’ when we see them because of the way in which they correspond to our innate notion of the Form of the Good.

By Plato’s logic, real knowledge becomes, in the end, a knowledge of goodness; and this is why philosophers are in the best position to rule. The one who has philosophical knowledge of the Good is the one who is fit to rule. Plato’s belief in the fitness to rule of the philosopher is sometimes referred to as the ‘Philosopher King’ (even though Plato himself never used it).

Plato developed his Theory of Forms to the point where he divided existence into two realms. There is the world of sense experience (the ‘empirical’ world), where nothing ever stays the same but is always in the process of change. Experience of it gives rise to opinions. There is also a world which is outside space and time, which is not perceived through the senses, and in which everything is permanent and perfect or Ideal - the realm of the Forms. The empirical world shows only shadows and poor copies of these Forms, and so is less real than the world of the Forms themselves, because the Forms are eternal and immutable (unchanging), the proper objects of knowledge.

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