To recap and summarize, there are three different kinds of forms presented to us in the Parmenides, by Socrates: Relational: the subjective experience of qualities of things, relative to each other. For example, Bigness, Sameness, or Heaviness (and their oppositions: Smallness, Difference, or Lightness). Ontological: the model or exemplar of actual things. For example, Man, Animal, Fire, and Water (but, inexplicably, not things like sticks and stones and mud and sealing wax).
In this installment of the series on Plato’s Forms, we’ll have a brief look at the major conceptions of the theory, some of the key differences, and dig deep into the one formulation Plato seems to have favored the most. For those of you looking for a thorough discussion of Parmenides’ refutations, you’ll have to wait until the last installment. In keeping with the principle of the first post, the idea here is to just try to understand the theory itself, and the problem it was trying to solve, before we make any move to object to it.
It has become a commonplace habit in contemporary quasi-philosophical circles, to roll one’s eyes and snicker, or to sneer and sniff, whenever the mention of Plato’s Forms happens to sour the air. It seems to be taken for granted these days, that the Forms “just aren’t done” anymore, that somehow they’ve been shown to be disreputable or false, and that no one need any longer to take the idea seriously (least of all, professional philosophers).
…after more than two thousand years the same discussions continue, philosophers are still ranged under the same contending banners, and neither thinkers nor mankind at large seem nearer to being unanimous on the subject, than when the youth Socrates listened to the old Protagoras, and asserted… the theory of utilitarianism against the popular morality of the so-called sophist… ~John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism I wonder, sometimes, if Mill had ever actually read the Protagoras.
If you look closely at Mill’s arguments in Utilitarianism, he seems to be making a very strong response to Kant (perhaps against the Groundwork?). Mill accepts the notion of moral duty, just as Kant does. But he insists it derives not from any form of analytic (i.e., Kant’s notion of synthetic a priori) truth. Rather, Mill insists it derives from the apparently universal desire of mankind (individually, in aggregate) to seek its own pleasure.