Saturday, September 14, 2013
The Etymology of Plato's Forms
We spent quite a bit of time on Plato's forms this week, and Mr. Kirkpatrick talked about forms in a different sense yesterday. I think it is interesting that the Greek work Plato used for forms is ἰδέα, or "idea". In fact, I think if you think of his philosophy as the "Theory of Ideas", it takes away a lot of what seems to me, to be honest, like pretentiously obscure intellectualism. If you think of them as ideas--that is, abstractions and, particularly, characterizations--the Theory of Forms becomes less of an odd theory or dualistic belief and more of a rational framework. To me it recalls mathematical set theory, in that each form essentially consists of a group of things sharing that characteristic, and the two realms represent the abstraction, or the shared characteristics of the objects within each set, and the objects themselves, which seems to me like a more useful and less mysterious distinction than that between the "World of Being" and the "World of Becoming". To return to the etymology itself, "idea" comes from the verb idein, "to see", meaning that it is the appearance of an object, as contrasted with the object itself. We get the words "wit" and of course "idea" from the same root.