What is Idea, What Does It Mean?July 2, 2021
The concept of Idea, which derives from the word Idein, expresses the apparent form meaning. It is the chief concept of idealism, which is one of the two basic teachings that answer the main problem of philosophy. The famous thinker of the Ancient Age, who introduced this concept to the field of philosophy and thus established idealism, is Plato.
Idealism and the concept of the idea
The great adventure of idealism begins with the Eleans in Ancient Greek philosophy. The Eleans do not consider what is perceived by the senses, that is, what is seen, real; They regarded what is grasped by reason, that is, the invisible, real. The Greek sophists of antiquity opposed this view. According to them, there was no reality outside of the visible, all we could know was our sense perceptions. The apparent and reality, which the Eleans (especially Parmenides) compared with each other, were identified with each other by the sophists (especially for Protagoras).
Plato undertook the study of sensation in order to determine which of these two opposing arguments was correct. His conclusion confirmed the Eleans. The sensation did not give us any information. When we perceive a tree, what is the information we get from that tree?
Plato systematized the concept of idea with the theory of ideas.
PLATO AND THE CONCEPT OF THE IDEA
According to Plato, idea is a general concept, there are as many ideas as there are genus names. In natural science, these general concepts are called species (for this reason, Plato’s ideaism is identified with the term speciesism in Turkish).
This concept was used in idealist philosophy as the content of consciousness, in other words, thought. This meaning, though cleared of Plato’s myths, fantasies, and metaphors, is still a Platonic one. For example, Aristotle uses it as the essence that remains unchanged in some places under the change of individuality, and the principle that shapes it (Entelekheia in Greek), Christian philosophy and especially Augustinus uses the divine thought that sets an example for the creation of the universe, Kant uses the organizing principle and purpose, and Hegel uses the universal thought or spirit that constitutes the universe. All these thinkers, together with Plato, consider it objective, that is, independent of human thought. However, it is human thought, that is, descartes, Berkeley, Hume, Fichte etc., who regard it as subjective. There are thinkers like
Ideas are therefore the eternal prototypes or patterns of the objects whose copies or copies we see in the sensory world. For example, a beautiful girl is a copy of the Beauty Idea.
According to Plato, we can only say that this girl is beautiful because we know the Idea of Beauty and realize that she has a share of the Idea of Beauty. For example, while every beautiful thing, this beautiful person or statue, that action or individual is doomed to death and oblivion, the Idea of Beauty itself does not disappear. He did not come into existence and will not perish; eternally and truly.
According to Plato, the idea of beauty is
There is always
It neither comes into existence nor disappears,
It neither grows nor shrinks,
What part is beautiful, another part is ugly,
What is beautiful at one time, ugly at another,
What looks beautiful to one and ugly to another.
Thus, where phenomenal things, sensuous objects are always relative to certain conditions, dependent on relations with other sensuous objects, the Ideas are real beings independent of all conditions, isolated from each other as well as from sensuous things.
The same is true for the Idea of Equality. Plato argues that we cannot derive our general concept of equality from observation of things that are equal to each other. In other words, a general concept cannot be known through abstraction from particular objects, concrete entities. But the naming or classification of particular objects, individual objects, depends on the knowledge of general concepts, according to Plato. That is, determining that things that are equal to each other, equal sticks or truths are equal, and being able to say that they are equal requires prior knowledge of the concept of equality.
Among the Ideas, then, are primarily the Ideas of moral values and aesthetic values. Among the Ideas are the Ideas of the classes of things such as man and tree, the Ideas of man-made products such as the table and the cedar, the Ideas of qualities such as greenery, roundness, and relations such as equality and similarity. Non-compound, immutable Ideas have absolute priority over things or phenomena that are composite, changeable, and therefore separable into their components. For Plato, who argues that things do not precede neither their properties nor their essence, the phenomenon depends on the Idea. That is why Ideas are so high above phenomena, sensuous things, in their degree of reality and value; In other words, Ideas are objective realities in which concrete entities are only appearances of individual objects themselves. An Idea is the model or prototype in which the concrete being is a copy of the particular object itself.
Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer Yıldırım
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Ataturk University Sociology