～428BC – 347BC
PLATO ON: THE FORMS
Asking one’s self and others what the perfect version of something is
the ideal version might sound like a strange idea
What is the perfect marriage?
or career? or system of government? or school?
It can feel immature and naïve to bother much with such questions
为这种问题烦恼 让人觉得不成熟 很天真
they’re just daydreams.
After all: who cares about ideal versions?
we might as well deal with what we’ve got.
But the great ancient Greek philosopher Plato
strenuously disagrees with this.
Throughout his work, he argues
that focusing on the ideal version of something
is one of the most useful kinds of thought excercises we can generate
It’s by knowing how something should be like
that we can more clearly start to define what might be wrong
and focus on what we need to do to make the world slightly better
When he was talking about ideals,
Plato used a slightly strange but ultimately useful word:
So he asks not what is the *ideal* friendship or the *ideal* kind of parental love
He asks what is the form of friendship, or the form of parental love.
It does sound strange
But what he had in mind was something very practical:
When a Greek stonemason was carving an ornament,
they wouldn’t just make it up themselves.
They’d make use of a wooden template, or form,
to check if they were getting it right.
The form itself was made by the master
But if the mason possessed the form,
they could more reliably do perfect work.
This is Plato’s basic picture of what an ideal is:
It’s the guide you need that shows you how to do something well yourself.
If you’ve got posession of the form, you can be guided towards a true goal.
A form, as Plato sees it, is a blueprint
a set of instructions for making a very good version of something.
That’s why we all need a very well thought-through set of forms
to guide us in life.
And, unsurprisingly, it is philosophy that can guide us to these forms.
So, for example, the form of friendship is a mental model
所以 例如 友谊的相
of what a really good friendship actually involves.
And if you grasp this model,
if this idea is active in your mind,
you will know how to be a good friend.
Similarly, having a form of education in mind
is going to be very usefull for the teacher
It will stop her being buffeted by events and day-to-day pressures
she’ll be able to keep in mind where, ideally, she should be going.
她能记住 理想状态下 她应该怎么做
We’ve typically thought of ideals as phantasy projections
that blindly ignore most of what life is actually like.
We think of them as the opposite of being realistic.
But Plato sees an ideal as a result of a deep understanding,
and careful engagement with reality
Someone setting up an airport would need, in the platonic scheme,
to have in mind the ideal air traffic control system.
Something optimally effective, efficient and safe.
This is the person who would, in Plato’s terms,
have grasped the form of air traffic control.
We all need to have as many forms in mind as we possibly can.
Plato is breaking the habitual assumption
that searching for the ideal is at odds with
getting things done in the ruff and tumble of the real world.
And he’s pushing us to be more exacting about where we are trying to head to.
If an ideal seems utterly distant and hopeless,
maybe the problem isn’t that it’s too idealistic,
but in a strange, but important, way
actually not idealistic enough.
That is, we have not quite yet discovered the form.
We shouldn’t abandon our ideals,
we should get more ambitious about them
And Plato’s philosophy is on hand to help us.
～428BC – 347BC