Authored by: Thomas M. Ward

The Routledge Companion to Medieval Philosophy

Print publication date:  January  2021
Online publication date:  January  2021

Print ISBN: 9780415658270
eBook ISBN: 9781315709604
Adobe ISBN:


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Most philosophers make their acquaintance with Forms through Ancient Philosophy, and in particular through Plato and Aristotle, and most are familiar with the following story. According to Plato, Forms are eternal, immutable, mind-independent, and necessarily are not objects of sensory perception. The Forms are truly Real and therefore are the only objects of genuine knowledge. Sensible objects do not really have the essences we attribute to them: your dog is not really a dog, Helen of Troy is not really beautiful, the circle you draw with compass and steady hand is not really a circle. Instead, these sensible objects are merely similar to, or participate in, the Forms of The Dog, The Beautiful, and The Circle. Aristotle rejected Plato’s Forms as theoretically wasteful and philosophically incoherent, but retained the idea that Forms alone are truly knowable. Aristotle brought the Forms down to earth by making them constituents of sensible objects; your dog really is a dog, according to Aristotle, because it has The Form of Dog as a constituent. Aristotle gives to Forms a definite job description: they give structure and character to matter.

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