Where the Platonic forms live

Emran asked:

I have a question regarding Plato’s Ideas or Forms. I wanted to understand where Plato believes the existence of these forms are. So I’m looking for their location for the lack of a better term.

And regarding morality, I’m assuming “good” and “evil” are real forms/ideas according to Plato. Would this be an accurate statement? If they’re not, where would they exist?

My hypothesis is because they espouse Emanationism, the ideas or Forms originated involuntarily from the Divine along with the cosmos, in which case they would be a part of the cosmos.

Any help would be greatly appreciated. Any reading material would also be helpful. Thank you.

Answer by Jürgen Lawrenz

We have to be careful here, with over 2000 years of Platonic interpretation squatting on our shoulders. My answer can serve as only one perspective on the matter, although I hope of course it might be useful to you for a clearer understanding.

One item should be settled first — the forms have nothing to do with emanationism; in fact, this is precisely the wrong approach which gets us nowhere. The culprit in this context is the term “methexis” which insinuates something flowing out of a universal and impregnating a particular. Nice piece of imagery, and usually rendered “participation” in English; but the nature of this participation is highly ambiguous, impossible to define and therefore confusing. Accordingly some scholars reject this notion altogether, because whatever is meant by this flow, must inevitably bring two locations into the picture. But the result is a self-contradiction, in that a universal which exists only idealiter is brought into direct communication with a particular that exists realiter. Compare the phrase we often use in conversation, “I can read your mind”, which points to a form of recognition, but can hardly mean literally what it says, as if the interrogator is looking through a peeping hole into the other person’s brain. And now, in an analogous way, the notion of “methexis” is much more appropriately understood as a relation of universal to particular. If I may oversimplify for a moment to emphasise this point: the universal may be regarded as the single concept underlying a multiplicity of instantiations, where the latter exhibit inessential imperfections in detail without departing from the recognisable identity of the perfect form.

E.g. you can draw a circle, as rough or precise as you wish. But it is physically impossible for you to draw a perfect circle. Nevertheless you can easily frame a conception of a perfect circle. This conception is the Platonic form.

Thus we have incidentally answered another part of your question. While every particular is situated in a specifiable location in space, universals qua concepts are not spatial items. Existing idealiter, their location is idealiter as well.

Concerning the other two items, I can’t conceive where you got them from, certainly not from Plato. “The Good” is not an adjective, whereas “evil” is. Hence there can be no form of Evil. Concerning the “involuntary” adjuncts of divine creation, it sounds as if you are proposing the spontaneous co-emergence of the Divine + Platonic Forms, presumably ex nihilo; but I can’t make sense of it and it seems to suggest the autogenesis of the Divine without rhyme or reason. In any case, the Timaeus leaves us in no doubt that the creation of the cosmos postdates the Divine. You might wish to look at it again and ask yourself if this is what you really wanted to say.

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