An Ambivalence in Plato's Theory of Forms

Dissertation, University of Minnesota (1984)

In my thesis I try to show that Plato treats the forms in his middle dialogues both as pure characters and as entities which are perfect exemplars for these characters . First, I make a distinction between things and characters based on what Plato says at Phaedo 103b. Things are entities which possess characters, while characters do not possess anything. Then I argue that the only way to make sense of self predication is by presupposing that forms are things . ;Next I examine certain important passages of the middle dialogues to decide how Plato treats the forms in each. The most convincing evidence that Plato treats forms ambivalently is from the Phaedo. In his equal sticks argument, he treats the forms as paradigms and talks about forms and particulars in a certain way: particulars resemble, fall short of and strive to be like the forms. In his final argument, he treats the forms as characters and talks about forms and particulars quite differently: particulars participate in the forms, they have the features they do because of this participation and they possess characters while forms do not. ;The evidence from the Republic is, in general, less conclusive than that of the Phaedo. However, the Republic contains an important argument, the third bed argument, which has been all but neglected by scholars. When scholars have briefly looked at it, some have said that one of its premises implies the denial of self predication, and this would imply that the third man argument of the Parmenides is unsound. I argue that in fact the third bed argument uses the same premises as the third man argument. Hence, the third man argument is sound. ;Finally, I look at some of the arguments in the first part of the Parmenides and show that if Plato had been consistent , his theory would not be vulnerable to the arguments of Parmenides
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