The Society for Ancient Greek Philosophy Newsletter

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Plato’s Theory of Participation: Platonic Forms and the Making of Sense Objects

It is correct to say, with certain Friends of the Forms, that Plato’s separate Forms (i.e., non-spatial Forms existing independently of their worldly participants) are not perfect or unqualified instances of themselves, as asserted by prominent Foes of the Forms; rather, they are abstract intelligible entities that do not, with a few exceptions, exemplify themselves. However, this does not yet explain how worldly things can possibly “participate” in Forms, or how that participation can make worldly things be what they are. This paper formulates and defends an explanation of “participation”, drawing heavily on the role of the Good as source of the “being and essence” (einai kai ousia, Rep. 509B) of all other Forms, and the related idea that participants in Forms are essentially things (taken broadly to include objects, actions, relationships, et al.) of types that have some necessary role to play, directly or indirectly, in the construction and functioning of an optimal created cosmos.


Richard Patterson presented "Platonic Forms and the 'Making' of Sense Objects" to the Society at its meeting with the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association in Boston in 1980. In revised form, it contributed to his book Image and Reality in Plato’s Metaphysics. Hackett 1985.

Richard Patterson, Department of Philosophy: Patterson is the former program director in Classical Studies at Emory (1987-1993) whose research focus is ancient philosophy, metaphysics, philosophy of mind, symbolic logic and philosophy of art and science. He was a 1985-1986 National Center for the Humanities Fellow and a 1989 Fellow with the Institute for Advanced Study. His most recent book is 2013’s “Presocratics and Plato,” which is co-edited with two other scholars.