Plato's Cave/Theory of the Forms - can't think of any AO2? Watch

held
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I'm in Year 12 and during the half-term week-off I've decided to try and make a perfect set of notes on what we have covered in class so far that are ready to revise from by the time exams roll around.

I already have notes detailing Plato's Cave, the Theory of the Forms, etc, and I feel quite confident in my AO1 knowledge. However, I simply cannot bring myself to think of criticisms or strengths of it all. I've tried to jot down some ideas, but I never feel satisfied with them, and when I look for other ideas in my textbook or online, I never feel satisfied with them either.

On top of this, I'm confused as to what I need to make strengths/weaknesses for. Is it for Plato as a whole, or specifically/individually the Cave analogy + the Theory of the Forms? A lot of the strengths/weaknesses I see online/in my book are just general criticisms of Plato as a whole, yet I know from practice questions in class and in the book that you can be asked about specific elements e.g. a question that focuses solely on the Cave analogy.

All in all I'm extremely lost and confused with religious studies. Could anybody provide some guidance at all? How should I be making notes on AO2?
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Evil Homer
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(Original post by held)
On top of this, I'm confused as to what I need to make strengths/weaknesses for. Is it for Plato as a whole, or specifically/individually the Cave analogy + the Theory of the Forms? A lot of the strengths/weaknesses I see online/in my book are just general criticisms of Plato as a whole, yet I know from practice questions in class and in the book that you can be asked about specific elements e.g. a question that focuses solely on the Cave analogy.
Criticisms in your essays should take into account specific weaknesses in the theories you are analysing, as well as any wider criticism of Plato that you think are relevant in the current context.

(Original post by held)
I already have notes detailing Plato's Cave, the Theory of the Forms, etc, and I feel quite confident in my AO1 knowledge. However, I simply cannot bring myself to think of criticisms or strengths of it all. I've tried to jot down some ideas, but I never feel satisfied with them, and when I look for other ideas in my textbook or online, I never feel satisfied with them either.
What ideas have you thought of, and what ideas have you seen online that haven't inspired you? If you list a few ideas down we can go through it together. I would suggest thinking about the 'freed prisoner' and the process of which they are freed as a starting point.
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held
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Ah alright, so I should try to find both general criticisms and specific ones, thanks!

As for which ideas I have seen that haven’t inspired me, it’s usually points like “there isn’t any empirical evidence” and other points which I feel like, whilst entirely valid, I wouldn’t be able to write a large (and engaging) paragraph on.

I’ve been racking my brains all night and some weaknesses I have come up with for the theory of the Forms are:
-the fact that we often use the same word to convey different ideas, yet Plato assumes that if two objects can be described with one word, they must both be participated in by a common form e.g. a good gun could be a gun that has good accuracy and is easy to reload, whereas a good child could be a child that behaves well and achieves good grades. Even though both are described as “good”, both are “good” due to completely different reasons, so how can you argue there is a commonality between all things that are good, or beautiful, or just? A counter-argument I thought of would be that, if the human mind/language can logically understand two different things using the same word in the same sense, surely there must be some commonality somewhere, even if it isn’t entirely obvious e.g. the essence of beauty could be flawlessness, symmetry, pattern, order, etc. However, an argument against that again could be that language does not necessarily have to make sense in order for us to rationalise it e.g. it is raining cats and dogs. We can deduce meaning from it even though it’s idiomatic and the words themselves don’t make sense. Similarly, by saying “a good gun” and “a good child”, we can deduce meaning from it because we can assume a good gun fires well and a good child behaves well, but the actual word “good” doesn’t link at all to the deciphered meaning, similar to how “cats and dogs” doesn’t link at all to the idea of heavy rain. This demonstrates how focusing on language and specific words in order to create forms is not wise as language is as much interpretation as it is literal.
-I had a point on the Third Man Objection
-I also had a point on how it tried to assign innate and objective qualities to objects e.g. beauty, when really what I find beautiful you may find ugly.

I spent ages typing the first one so I’m a little burnt out now, so I just briefly outlined my last two points. I will probably post the strengths I’ve come up with tomorrow - and yeah, this is just for the theory of the Forms. I’m really torn with the cave analogy. Some obvious points are that it teaches us not to blindly trust our senses etc, and that we can find greater fulfilment in life through engaging in philosophy like the prisoner who was set free, though I feel like my ideas there aren’t as creative or unique as some of the points I have for the ethics side of the course.
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Evil Homer
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(Original post by held)
I’ve been racking my brains all night and some weaknesses I have come up with for the theory of the Forms are:
-the fact that we often use the same word to convey different ideas, yet Plato assumes that if two objects can be described with one word, they must both be participated in by a common form e.g. a good gun could be a gun that has good accuracy and is easy to reload, whereas a good child could be a child that behaves well and achieves good grades. Even though both are described as “good”, both are “good” due to completely different reasons, so how can you argue there is a commonality between all things that are good, or beautiful, or just?
I think you should stop being so down on yourself, I know that you said this burnt you out getting it all down, but this is a fantastic critque and one that holds up well at any level, so it is perfect for an A-level essay.

If Plato was trying to argue the point, I would suppose that the shared commonality of good would reside in the specific objects (the gun or the child) ability to perform its primary function. It could potentially be worth thinking about this issue from a different angle. I would suggest a gun is not the best example as I would assume most human beings would share the same idea of a 'good' gun. Maybe looking into the definition of a 'good' child can help us really hit on a key issue I have with Plato.

What do you think of when you think of a 'good child'? What would your critieria be? Perhaps a hundred years ago we would consider a good child as obeident, quiet, hard working. Although some people in the western world would probably still accept this definition, It wouldn't be very difficult to find someone who disagreed. Instead I would consider a good child as someone who was inquisitive, creative and someone who was alowed to enjoy themselves.

So the issue is this. How do we marry Plato's theory of the forms in a world of competing and differing moralities? If we agree with Plato's definition of good, then it would follow that certain peoples theories of a good child are right, and some are wrong. What issues would this bring up?

As for which ideas I have seen that haven’t inspired me, it’s usually points like “there isn’t any empirical evidence” and other points which I feel like, whilst entirely valid, I wouldn’t be able to write a large (and engaging) paragraph on.
I agree. Although this is potentially an okay criticism, it is not best practice to critique without engaging directly with the theory specifically. You would be best to stick to more engaged critiques that show case your skills of argument and your knowledge better.

I hope this has helped, I am happy to run through any other criticisms you come up with whenever you are ready!
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Joe312
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The fact that there's no empirical evidence isn't so inspiring by itself, but if you then consider how Plato would respond, and how you might possibly counter his response, it gets more interesting. Plato doesn't accept empirical evidence because he thinks it's just shadows on the wall! How do you argue with someone who says that? There are ways but it forces you to say more about WHY empirical evidence SHOULD be the basis for knowledge.
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These are all some really interesting points and I'm definitely going to think more about them and jot them down to try and develop them. Now that I'm on my PC, here are the evaluations I've made for Plato's theory of the Forms. The way I have done it is sorta like bullet-point ideas, and then a counter argument, and then a further counter-argument. The initial counter-argument is in bold. Any critique is heavily appreciated!



Theory Weaknesses:

The theory implies that things are objective and absolute e.g. that beauty is intrinsic to an object – however people may find different things beautiful or ugly – Plato would argue that beauty is objective and if we disagree on whether something is beautiful or not, it is due to a deluded perception – if beauty is intrinsic, why can’t it be detected by scientific instruments? Would beauty exist if humans weren’t here on Earth?

Words can mean different things in different contexts – a good gun has different properties than a good child – if the human mind understands that two objects are ‘good’, surely there must be some commonality – not necessarily, you could rephrase it as ‘this gun kills quickly’ and ‘this child behaves well’. The theory places too much emphasis on words.

Third Man Objection: Plato stated that if two objects have a commonality, a form must participate in them, this is called the one-over-many argument – so, if the form of beauty and a rose are beautiful, another form must participate in both of them – this goes on endlessly to infinity, which is ridiculous – Plato insisted that this isn’t how it works and denied that there are infinite forms in this manner – does this mean Plato denies the one-over-many argument?




Theory Strengths:

By studying essences we can extrapolate qualities and ideas to other aspects of our lives e.g. if we figure out what beauty is, we can make more things beautiful – beauty may not actually have commonalities between objects e.g. beautiful music vs beautiful painting – if the human mind understands that two objects are beautiful, surely there must be some commonality, even if subtle e.g. flawlessness, symmetry, etc.

It teaches us that our senses can be wrong and we shouldn’t blindly believe empirical information – e.g. glass doors, synthetic products nowadays such as perfume – when our senses are right, we make heavy progress e.g. medicine – empirical information only works when we have access to perception, some things don’t have sufficient information available e.g. do aliens exist, and therefore require rational thinking.

It establishes universals and moral absolutes – understanding that there are perfect ideals means we can strive towards them and use the theory as a guide in ethical decision making e.g. is murder always wrong? – morals are relativist, not absolute e.g. murder may be permissible in some situations such as war – one wrong shouldn’t justify another, war shouldn’t be used as a justification for murder, in the Realm of the Forms there would be no war.
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