How Plato Used His Two-Worlds Theory As an Argument Against the Three Predominant Pre-Socratic Theories on Reality One of the ongoing quests in human history is the search for what is reality composed of and what can one use to determine what is real and what is merely an illusion or perhaps part of a false reality. This search can be traced back as far as some of the pre-Socratic philosophers. The three more popular theories that were around came from three pre-Socratic philosophers, Heraclitus, Protagoras, and Parmenides.
All three philosophers had a theory of what reality is composed of and what the ultimate reality is. Plato came along and more or less combined the three theories into one larger theory that is now called Plato’s Two-Worlds Theory. Plato’s Two-Worlds Theory is a relatively simple theory. Plato suggests that there are two worlds, or realms. The first world is perfect and is referred to as the World of Being. The second world is the imperfect world, called the World of Becoming. The two realms are separate from each other; however, there is a connection that exists between the two worlds.
The only way that the World of Becoming can be connected to the World of Being is through participation. The World of Becoming is inhabited by all tangible objects. The World of Being contains something that Plato refers to as Forms. Forms are essentially ideas, but there are four requirements that must be met in order to classify something as a Form. A Form must be eternal, perfect, transcendent, and objective. This means that an object cannot be in the World of Being, but an object being that object, such as a Douglas fir being a tree.
The tree cannot be in the World of Being, but treeness is; therefore, the Douglas fir is participating in the World of Being which is the one connection between the two worlds described in Plato’s theory. This theory was used as a rebuttal against other theories of Heraclitus, Protagoras, and Parmenides. Heraclitus is a monistic and a materialistic philosopher. Heraclitus said that the basis for reality was fire or some manifestation of fire. Fire is one of the four elements that were recognized at that time in history, and it is also considered very spiritual.
The reason that Heraclitus chose fire as the element that makes up what is considered by him to be reality is because both fire and the world are in a constant state of flux. If one was to watch fire burn they would notice that the shape is always fluctuating and never stops moving. The world is doing the same thing. In organic objects, cells are constantly dying and falling away from the organic matter and new cells are being reproduced. In the human body, blood vessels and capillaries are constantly changing size based on what the environment is around the body.
Plato challenged this theory by saying that the only reality was in the World of Being, and the only way that something could be considered to be a Form, which is all that exists in the World of Being, it must be eternal which means that the Form can have no beginning and no end, and that the Form must never change. If reality is constantly changing, than according to Plato, it is not perfect; therefore it is in the World of Becoming and is not real. Protagoras is a realistic pluralist whose theory is more or less a theory of relativism.
Protagoras states that there were as many different theories of reality as there are people on the planet. The theory states that man is the measure of all things. This means that the view of reality and its composition varies from person to person and that the view is only relative to that person. Plato combated this theory by making the Two-Worlds theory an absolutist theory. The requirement for a Form to be objective and perfect which effectively prevents a Form from being relative and changing. Parmenides’ perception of reality is similar to the basics of most monotheistic religions.
Parmenides states that reality is eternal and unchanging. Because the world is constantly changing, everything that people perceive as reality is an illusion because his theory states that reality must never change. This theory more or less means that everyone is living in a false reality and that what one perceives to be real is an illusion with one exception. The only reality that Parmenides recognizes, he refers to it as “the One. ” He states that “the One” is unchanging and has no beginning or an end, very much like the deity worshipped in a monotheistic religion.
Plato does agree with this theory by saying that Forms must be eternal, but he also argues that the world is not an illusion or a false reality. Reality is merely the act of being which means that what people are doing on this earth is being human which is participation in the other world through humanness which gives mankind a reason for existence. During the two thousand years following the death of Aristotle, the west attempted to make the beliefs of that time period fit with Plato’s Two-Worlds Theory.
His theory was one of the more advanced theories of that time drawing inspiration from some of the various pre-Socratic theories of that time. Plato’s theory also seems to be a basis of some sort for a couple of the monotheistic religions. If one was to compare Christianity to Plato’s Two-Worlds theory, one would see how both contain two separate worlds, but Christianity holds the belief that it is possible to travel between the two worlds. The Two-Worlds Theory seems to have inspired mankind for centuries, and it will most likely continue to inspire mankind for centuries to come.