The World of Ideas

Philosophy is the science that embodies the pursuit of truth. According to Plato, it is the only way to self-knowledge. The question of the role of a philosopher is a part of Plato’s theory of ideas in The Republic, and that question manifests itself in the dialogues with Socrates, Plato’s teacher. A philosopher is not the one who loves wisdom but the one who loves to explore the truth. Unlike vision, knowledge cannot be erroneous. According to the philosophy of Plato, which is derived from Socrates’s teachings, ideas exist, but they are imperceptible. Things, in their turn, are nothing more than a weak semblance of ideas; therefore, they are not true beings. Some Socrates’s and Plato’s arguments can be interpreted as precursors of the dualistic philosophy of Descartes. Descartes recognized the presence of two objective entities in the world, namely res extensa and res cogitans, or matter and mind. This paper will discuss Socrates’s distinction between the world of substances and the world of ideas, as well as Descartes’s dualistic theory of mind and body. There are two different worlds: the world of ideas and the world of substances, and all things are only reflections of their ideas.


Socrates’s and Plato’s Philosophy


In The Republic, Plato reproduces the true nature of Socrates’s philosophy. He argues that the second world is the world of ideas, visible only to the intellect but not to the senses of the body (Plato, c. 380 BCE/1991). Thus, the central category in Plato’s philosophy is the Theory of Ideas, or the Theory of Forms, developed by Socrates. Plato gives two reasons for concluding that there is a second world besides the natural universe, visible to eyes. First, according to him, the world is twofold in nature: there is a visible world of mutable objects, and there is an invisible world of ideas. Ideas are the essence of things. The world of ideas is true, while concrete, sensually perceived things are only shadows of ideas, their weak copies (Plato & Cooper, 2001). The second reason is that the world of ideas exists independently, apart from the world of substances or human thoughts. This second world is located in a special area of space. Being the prototypes of sensible objects, ideas can be cognizable only by thinking, not by feelings.


The world of ideas can explain what the physical world cannot. First, in the material world, things can change; they are concrete and transitory, and they are born and die. Ideas, in their turn, are eternal and unchanging; thus, they can explain the essence of substances (Plato & Cooper, 2001). Specific things or living beings are always imperfect and have inaccuracies, while ideas are flawless. Plato uses the allegory of the cave in the seventh book of the Socratic dialogue The Republic to explain his Theory of Ideas. The cave embodies the sensual world in which people live. Like the prisoners of the cave, they believe that they know the true reality due to their sense. However, such life is just an illusion (Plato, c. 380 BCE/1991). They can form an opinion about the world of ideas only by observing vague shadows on the wall of the cave.


Descartes’s Dualism


When addressing the aforementioned issue, Descartes employs the so-called dualism. According to substance dualism, there are two principles: the material one and the ideal one. According to the philosopher, mind and body are two completely different things: the mental substance does not have spatial parameters, while the bodily, or extended, substance has them. Descartes distinguishes the properties of each kind of substance. All material things are characterized by spatial extension, and they have length, width, height, depth, size, and divisibility. All mental substances, in their turn, are characterized by thinking, conceivability, and indivisibility. According to Descartes, the non-material substance has its inherent ideas. In his theory of innate ideas, Descartes re-developed the Platonic proposition of true knowledge, stating that it is a recollection of what was imprinted in the soul when it was in the world of ideas. Soul and matter, and thinking and extension are completely heterogeneous substances that cannot interact according to the laws of natural causality. Their interaction is a miracle, and only God can do wonders. Therefore, it is God who can reconcile the logic of thinking with the matter.


Descartes is convinced that his knowledge of the mental world is more certain than that of the physical one. Comparing the value of sense and mind in cognition, Descartes acts as a rationalist and prefers mind. A thinking human is the embodiment of the two substances, namely body and mind. However, a mental process is a human attribute and a criterion for the existence of a man as a rational being. Descartes proved the fact that the basis of being and cognition is the mind. There are many things and phenomena that are incomprehensible to a human; therefore, anything can be doubted. Consequently, doubt exists. The existence of doubt is obvious and does not need any proofs. Since doubt is a property of thought, then a doubting person is able to think. Since thinking is the work of mind, only the mind can be the foundation for cognition.



The aim of a philosopher is to study ideas, not things, because substance can aspire to ideas, but it cannot be compared with them. If people see a particular thing, it does not mean that that thing exists exactly as they perceive it. The distinction between the world of substances and the world of ideas is one of the ancient issues in philosophy. In Plato’s The Republic, Socrates argues that in the material world, true entities are hidden and distorted by a veil of formless matter. Similarly, Descartes speaks of the dualism of mind and body in a human being. Thus, the notions of thinking and extension, as well as of mental and physical objects, are completely different.


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