Plato''s Theory of Forms and Reincarnation
Plato believed that the world was made up of Forms. Forms are not physical, but an abstract concept; they are the characteristics of an object that allow us to know what that object is.
Plato states that that our mind is the reality, whereas the physical world is the illusion. When we see the world, it is only an appearance, we can see it, and it is physically there, but it is not as real as what we imagine it to be.
For example: In our minds, we have an opinion of what a perfect circle looks like. We know what a perfect circle looks like. It is completely smooth, with no edges or creased curves. That is real, and we know it, but in the physical world, there is no such thing a perfect circle. Even using a protractor. It may look real, but that is only its appearance. If you took a microscope and looked at the circle then, it would be very rough.
Plato asks ‘What makes a cat a cat?’ We determine what a cat is by what it looks like, but Plato’s argument is ‘How do you know it looks like one?’ All cats look different. They come in different shapes, sizes and colours, so what is the one main feature that makes it a cat? It’s not its legs, because dogs also have four, it’s not its whiskers because rabbits also have whiskers. This is where his proposition for the theory of Forms comes in. To us we can tell after seeing a few cats the basic characteristics of them. They might all be slightly different, but the basic shape or mould is the same. Just like gingerbread men, being cut with the mould, but they still all come out differently to some extent, no matter how big or small a difference that is.
But how can it be that our mind is reality when everyone’s mind is different. No one in the world sees the universe in exactly the same way, so how can they call be realities?
Instead of saying that we are born without knowledge and have to be taught it through education, Plato believes that there is life before birth, so we already have this knowledge within us. When we are born, we are actually more knowledgeable than adults. Although we have this knowledge, however, we are unaware of its presence. Education brings out the knowledge you already hold about the universe. We could never bring out all of the knowledge we have in our lifetime, which is why we are always learning.
Aristotle argued against Plato’s view of life. Aristotle knowledge came from a posteriroi, a term which means gaining knowledge through experience. Plato's theory of reincarnation, however, is a priori, a terming meaning to have knowledge before the event.
Plato believes we get our prior knowledge of the universe before birth. I agree with this to a certain extent; research has shown how children have an innate ability to learn language or recognise when we are in danger. My argument against Aristotle would be that we could not learn through experience if we have no knowledge in which to process it. As a child we are taught how to speak, but unless we had a prior understanding of how to speak then it would be impossible to comprehend how to perform such a task. Perhaps this knowledge comes from the experience of past lives.
Although I believe in reincarnation, I don’t think it happens to everyone. I am unsure why, but the fact that only a handful of people in the world who seem to have memories of a prior existence. This is most frequent in children; as we grow older the memories start to fade, which supports Plato’s theory that we are more knowledgeable as children than adults.
I agree with Plato for the most part, but there are a few things that I would question. For example, how is it possible for a child to have knowledge before it is taught if it looks at a coat hanger calls it a tree? In the child’s mind that might be reality, but in the physical world it is not true; even in the world of Forms a tree is a tree and coat hanger is a coat hanger.