Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, Vol 13, No 3 (2017)

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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Does Plato Make Room for Negative Forms in His Ontology?

Necip Fikri Alican


Plato seems to countenance both positive and negative Forms, that is to say, both good and bad ones. He may not say so outright, but he invokes both and rejects neither. The apparent finality of this impression sustains a lack of direct interest in the subject: Plato scholars do not give negative Forms much thought except as the prospect relates to something else they happen to be doing. Yet when they do give the matter any thought, typically for the sake of a prior concern, they try either to support the textual evidence or to contradict it, indicating that the evidence does not stand on its own. The purpose of this paper is to determine why they tend to affirm or deny the obvious, how they try to confirm or dispute it, and what this says about Plato’s position. The strategic vehicle is a comparative case study. The data set consists of one confirmation, one contradiction, both with indirect interest in negative Forms. The confirmation comes from Debra Nails (2013), who needs to embrace negative Forms to demonstrate that the unhypothetical first principle of the all is not identical to the Form of the good, something she cannot do (or do exactly as she pleases) unless Plato recognizes negative Forms. The contradiction comes from Holger Thesleff (2013), who needs to reject negative (Ideal) Forms because the defining feature of his (Ideal) Forms is the possession of positive intrinsic value, which cannot be predicated of anything negative. Despite defending opposite views, or perhaps because of this, they jointly make up for any lack of interest in the scholarly community. I appreciate both yet ultimately side with Thesleff .   

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