In this post we are not going to affirm Plato’s ideas but rather critique a formalization presented by my professor Tony Roark in lecture.
The argument from imperfection is fairly basic in nature. It claims that by knowing that which is imperfect we can see there must be a perfect standard by which to know the imperfect object. This is the argument more formally by Roark:
- 1. Whenever we judge that some perceptible object is equal (to another), larger, smaller, beautiful, good, just, pious, etc., we judge that it is only imperfectly so. [Premise]
- 2. If one judges that a perceptible object is only imperfectly F, she must have in mind something that is perfectly F to which she compares it and recognizes it to fall short of in terms of F-ness. [Premise]
- 3. So we often have in mind something that is perfectly F. [1, 2]
- 4. So there is something such that it is perfectly F and we have it in mind 
- 5. So there is something that is perfectly F. 
- 6. But no perceptible object is perfectly F. [Premise]
- 7. Hence, there is something that is perfectly F (call it the “Form of F-ness”), distinct from any perceptible object, in comparison to which we judge perceptible objects to be imperfectly F. [5, 6] (Roark)
Of course Roark’s argument shows that the invalid move Plato makes is between 3 and 4. Simply having something in mind does not entail the conjunction of having it in mind and its very existence. This would be absurd on many levels if one were to consider it. This is why I believe the argument as presented is the incorrect way of presenting the argument. Now, since I do not know the specific pages that Roark garnered this argument I will assume it is from sections Phaedo 73-75. Here is where the analogy between recollection and knowing the perfect form is made by Plato.
In the Phaedo, starting around 73d we see a key passage stating “Well, you know what happens to lovers: whenever they see a lyre, a garment, or anything else that their beloved is accustomed to use, they know the lyre, and the image of the boy to whom it belongs comes into their mind.” This also goes for things that are dissimilar as presented here: “In all these cases the recollection can be occasioned by things that are similar, but it can also be occasioned by things that are dissimilar?—It can.” Thus this helps make the further analogy between the imperfect and the perfect. In the Phaedo Plato uses equality as an example. There is the equal itself (represented by Equal with a capital ‘e’) and physical objects that just seem equal. So when I see two objects that seem equal, but are not perfectly equal, we are able to know the ways in which they aren’t perfectly equal by recalling the Equal. So from perceiving something dissimilar (the truly non-equal things that seem equal) we recollect something. This is shown in the Phaedo after Plato, speaking to Simmias, gets Simmias to admit a few things about the equal objects and the equal itself: “As long as the sight of one thing makes you think of another, whether it be similar or dissimilar, this must of necessity be recollection.” So not just having something in mind entails existence but having something in mind entails recollecting that thing. This is a important move that Roark missed. This argument should instead be called The Argument from Recollection.
I believe that argument should be formalized like this:
- If you have something in mind then you are recollecting that thing.
- If you can recollect something then surely that thing exists.
- When you see something that is imperfectly F (F being some quality) it often brings to mind something perfectly F.
- You can recollect something perfectly F. (1,3)
- Something perfectly F exists. (2,4).
This, I believe, is the more proper way of understanding the argument (at least for the gap between 3 and 4 in Roark’s argument). Here we get the full picture of why having something in mind can lead to some things existence. When one considers whether the above premises are true, that is another story.
I’m using Stephanus pagination for Plato.
Tony , Roark. “The Phaedo.”http://coas.boisestate.edu/troark/. N.p.. Web. 27 Oct 2013. <http://coas.boisestate.edu/troark/class-materials/the-phaedo/>.