Sunday, August 14, 2011

Aristotle's forms

I cannot help but question the validity of the Aristotelian idea of the forms. While it seems that form exist objectively, the forms that we see in the world appear to be artificial concepts, means by which similar things are grouped.

By convention an shape consisting of 3 sides is called a triangle. Instead of grouping all such objects under one form we could have separate names for each different type of triangle. A right triangle an isosceles triangle etc. are all grouped under triangle but only due to accidental convention and each type could have its own form instead being labeled triangular.

Consider also that forms tend to be fuzzy sets. There is no hard and fast rules with regards to were an object stops being one imperfect actualization of one form and becomes another. Take for example the instrument known as a triangle. It is a metal bar bent into the shape of a triangle. It has the form of triangularity. It is not perfect, the corners are rounded and one corner is missing. But say we start bending the triangle very slightly. Since it is never the perfect actualization of triangularity we can say that even slightly bent, it contains the form of triangularity. At what point in bending the triangle does it cease to have triangularity and instead takes on a different form? This is subjective and different people can disagree.

Since language is finite, it is necessary that similar items are grouped under the same form. But when items that are clearly under one form begin to change, like the triangle, they start to fall out of the group they were placed in. As I stated, form are fuzzy sets, meaning that there can be overlaps and while the sets are objectively defined, the overlaps have to be placed subjectively because they do not clearly belong in one set more then another.

If forms are only creations of the intellect that were developed as languages were created, then when we recognize an object for the form it actualizes, the form itself does not exist in our mind. Only an object that actualizes the form, as defined, contains that form. As such, the claim that the soul or the intellect is immaterial because the forms exist within is not true. The intellect does not possess the form of the object within it.

1 comment:

Friar Tuck said...

“A right triangle an isosceles triangle etc. are all grouped under triangle but only due to accidental convention and each type could have its own form instead being labeled triangular.”

I'm not sure how you hold this to be true. It seems that there is nothing accidental about them being grouped under “triangle”, because they all share in essential nature of triangularity, i.e. a three-sided object in Euclidean geometry with angles adding to 180 degrees.
Here perhaps, we can speak of genus and species. A right triangle is a particular species of triangle and shares in its essential nature of the genus triangle as described above. The same holds true for isosceles triangles and so on. They are essentially triangles, but they have addition properties that make them a more specific type of triangle, and indeed geneses.

“Consider also that forms tend to be fuzzy sets.”

I'm not quite sure what you mean by this. And that you have chose geometric objects, perhaps the most well defined forms, to demonstrate this confuses me all the more. The form of triangle is no fuzzy set, it consists of all objects with three sides in Euclidean geometry with angles that add to 180 degrees. I'm not sure how that is a “fuzzy set.”

“Take for example the instrument known as a triangle. It is a metal bar bent into the shape of a triangle.”

Here we enter the realm of the analogy of being. The instrument that you are talking about does not possess the form of triangle, in the same sense as I possess the form of human. It only participates in the form of triangle by analogy. This is because, first it is a three dimensional object, so it is not an object in 2-D Euclidean space. However, you do note that when we see it, it does share in the form of triangle and this is why we think of it as a triangle, even though it is clearly not.
This is the nature of the analogy of being. That while two objects are clearly different, they share in the same nature, though not in the same way. For example, we say that a pilot is an eagle when he flies. However, we do not mean that the pilot is an eagle, but that in a way he shares in the same graceful and precise movements of a eagle.
So, this is how we think of your instrument. It shares in the form of triangle, even though it can't be a triangle, because it is a three dimensional object.

Finally, I'm not sure I completely understand your argument, but you seem to be making an epistemological argument for an ontological claim. You seem to suggest that because we can't know precisely when an object loses one form and takes on another, that forms don't exist and are only a matter of convention. However, the way you talk about triangles gives evidence for existence of forms and our possessing them in our intellect.
First, you, in a previous post, offered a precise definition, or the essential nature and form, of what a triangle is. Further, you consider how the instrument you mention is an imperfect instantiation of triangularity. However, on what basis do you call it imperfect? It is as if you are comparing it to a perfect example of triangularity. Since, I think we would agree that triangularity is not existent in itself, it seems it must be in your intellect.
You both understand what a triangle is and you are able to compare it to imperfect instantiations of triangles. This does not seem to me to be a convention, but as if we actually know really true natures of real things.