This paper will be concerned with Plato's theory of Ideas (or Forms). Various aspects of the theory of Ideas are presented in the texts of the philosopher. The emphasis in this paper will be on the conception of pure knowledge as the highest form of truth and beauty, an aspect of the theory which is presented in the Symposium.
According to Plato, the material world of the senses is an illusion. The real world, on the other hand, is the realm of Ideas which lies beyond the material world. With this view in mind, Plato claims that "only Ideas are real" (Flew 160). The material world, or the world of appearances, is constantly changing. The world of Ideas, however, never changes and is free from the limitations of time and space. As a result, Plato's theory holds that Ideas represent true reality, or the Truth which transcends the relativity of matter.
Whereas the objects of the material world are apprehended by the senses, the Platonic Ideas are apprehended by the mind. The Greek words for Idea (idein) and Form (eidos) are both related to the concept of vision (Flew 159). Thus, Ideas or Forms are things which are seen. However, they are not seen with the physical sight of the senses but rather "by a kind of intellectual vision" (159). The mind which is capable of visualizing the higher realm of Ideas is often equated with the soul. In the words of the historian Michael Grant: "As we learn increasingly in Plato's later works, the Forms are apprehended by the Soul, which is their ultimate partner both in the macrocosm which is God, the cause and explanation of the universe, and in the microcosm which is the individual human soul" (217). Thus, it can be seen that the soul is the link which exists between the material world and the world of Ideas.
Plato's theory of Ideas divides the universe into two separate realities which are polar opposites of one another. In this regard, the Ideas are "permanent, unvarying, e...