This week, the philosophers had their last tutorial on Plato. The topic was one of Plato’s most distinctive contributions to philosophy – the theory of Forms. We compared the presentation of the theory of Forms in different Platonic dialogues, and practiced discussing and evaluating texts from the history of philosophy.
I started off by asking the groups what they knew about Plato's Forms already, either from the lectures or their own reading. This built up a basic understanding of the Forms for the classroom. The common suggestions were that the Forms are "perfect", "accessed through reason, not the senses", and "like concepts or universals".
The next step was to separate the students into groups, assigned passages from different dialogues:
- Phaedo 75c-77c - on the connection between the theory of recollection, the immortality of the soul, and the reality of the forms.
- Symposium 210a-211e - the 'ladder of love': the stages that the lover takes from loving the beautiful individual to loving the Form of beauty itself.
- Republic 514a-518a - the analogy of the cave: what we think of as 'reality' is like the shadows on the wall of the cave - it is merely an imitation of the true reality of the Forms outside the cave, with the ultimacy of the Form of the Good represented by the sun.
The students had fifteen minutes to read their passages and prepare to tell the rest of the class about how the theory of Forms is represented in their passage. They did quite well with the reading, and the presentations led to a fruitful discussion of the different ways that Plato characterises the theory of Forms, and whether we could identify any overall 'features' of the theory of Forms.
Next week, the philosophers will be starting Aristotle, and the classicists will be reading some Pericles.