The Unfolding Account of Forms in the Phaedo

In David Ebrey & Richard Kraut (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Plato, 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 268-297 (2022)
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In Plato’s dialogues, Socrates calls things like justice, piety, and largeness “forms.” In several of these dialogues, he makes clear that forms are very different from familiar objects like tables and trees. Why, exactly, does he think that they differ and how are they supposed to do so? This chapter argues that in the Phaedo Socrates does not assume that they are different, but rather, over five stages of the dialogue, provides an account of how and why they do so. To fully understand the claims made in the first stage, one must look to the next stage, and so on until the final stage. Socrates' ultimate reason for distinguishing forms from ordinary objects does not depend on our intuitions about things like justice and largeness, nor on the distinction between universals and particulars. Ultimately, forms cannot be ordinary objects because the form of f-ness must cause every f-thing to be f, but no ordinary object could serve as such a cause. They cannot do so because they have multiple parts and are receptive of opposites; by contrast, the form of f-ness must be simple and unchanging, since it causes every f-thing to be f.

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David Ebrey
Universitat de Barcelona


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