Plato’s view on perceptibles and intelligibles

Plato’s view on Perceptibles and Intelligibles

Plato’s approach to philosophy involved explaining complex concepts. In trying to explain the Body and soul, Plato assessed two concepts, perceptibles, and intelligibles. These substantially differed in meaning and characteristics. In this analysis, I will focus on the properties of the two concepts, borrowing materials from Plato’s Timaeus.

In simple terms, perceptibles can be perceived using the senses. Plato refers to perceptibles as an aistheton, a cognitive act that bears an opinion accompanied by an irrational sensation called doxa (Broadie, 2012). This explanation makes it clear that perceptibles have a property. The first characteristic of a perceptible is that it must be capable of being conceived by an individual’s cognitive sphere. This conception is in the form of doxa, opinion, and not aesthesis, sensation (Tim. 28c1, 37b8, 51d4, 51d6, 52a7, 77b5.). Other characteristics of being perceptibles include being visible and tangible. This implies that perceptibles must be capable of being perceived using physical senses, such as vision or touch, and elicit a cognitive action in the form of an opinion. These characteristics are made possible by two kinds of bodily stud, pyr (fire) and (earth) (Tim. 31b3–6.). Indeed, nothing would be visible in the absence of fire as this is the primary source of light. Even sunlight is a result of fire—gases burning at very high temperatures to yield shortwave radiation (light). Besides, nothing would be tangible without earth. These are only the fundamental components, but other naturally occurring materials contribute to the property of perceptibles.

In simple terms, intelligibles are attributes capable of being understood. According to Plato, intelligibles result from reasoning and the pattern of thoughts. This process is a realm of mathematics and involves logical deduction (Karfik, 2021). This means that it happens in the absence of visual and sensual signals, which often confuse the mind and hinder the deduction process. From this definition, it is sound to argue that perceptibles have properties that intelligibles lack. They have doxa and rely on aesthesis, which is not the case for intelligibles.

Form as a conceived idea about something. As an intelligible, form results from logical reasoning and a thoughtful process. Besides, it is universal and implies the knowledge of things that change. For instance, the “Form” of cows is abstract and does not change anywhere in the world. From the property of intelligibles, this form would not change even if all cows in the world were to vanish. This is different from perceptibles. Perceptibles rely on signals from the external world. Thus, the perceptibles of cows are different in Africa from the United States, which also differs in Asia. The differences are inspired by signals obtained through vision or touch. For instance, a cow may be big, black, and humped in semi-arid regions, but the hump disappears for those reared in highlands.

Memory and Recollection

Plato tried to explain human existence from the physical and intellectual realms. The critical areas of focus that reflect intellectuality are knowledge and learning. Plato discussed the concept of memory in his dialogue Theatetus and recollection in the dialogues Meno and Phaedo. In this part, I will explain how memory and recollection connect with the past, focusing on learning and knowledge and drawing from Plato’s dialogues.

Memory is an imprint of what we perceive or conceive. The dialogue presents one of the most exciting analogs, where the mind is equated to a wax block where whatever is impressed is remembered (Theatetus 191d-e). This illustration is simplistic yet insightful of how memory exists. One remarkable part of memory is that something must be perceived, such as through the senses, or conceived through thoughts for it to be remembered later. Time is a critical aspect of memory. The association between exposure and duration influences memory. This has been a critical point of concern in judging evidence in courts (Theatetus 189c). As time passes, the recall of a mental imprint fades because new memories are formed every day.

Recollection can be simply termed as remembering something. This implies that what is stored in the mind, described as memory, is selectively retrieved to fit the needs of a particular situation. This can be as simple as remembering the answer to a set of questions that were asked previously (Meno 82b) or drawing from one’s knowledge to respond to a similar situation (Phaedo 78b). Plato describes recollection as anamnesis in his theory. From his perspective, he noted that learning and seeking are entirely recollection (Meno 81e).  He also introduces an interesting argument that incarnation put facts and information in us and learning is being reminded what we already knew in the past life. Thus, anamnesis becomes an integral component of Plato’s explanation of recollection.  

Both memory and recollection connect in that they rely on mental imprints formed in the past. However, memory is just a mental imprint and can only be expressed in a recollection. For instance, when an individual views the image of a loved one, their mind is filled with thoughts of moments they have had together, which depicts recollection. Learning aims at creating memory and forming knowledge. This knowledge can then be retrieved in a recollection process, where an individual experiences a sensory trigger by sight, hearing, or touch and uses their knowledge to respond to the trigger adequately.

Memory is related to the past in that perception or conception is stored in the mind as time passes. Recollection is connected to the past by relying on knowledge and memory to respond to an active situation, like in the case when an individual is presented with a set of questions. The two are interconnected in that recollection cannot exist in the absence of memory. This has been demonstrated in witness situations, where courts have discredited witnesses on the account that their state of mind affected their memory and what they recollect is not an accurate profile of an incident that happened in the past.


Theatetus 189c, 191d-e

Phaedo 78b

Meno 82b

Tim. 28c1, 37b8, 51d4, 51d6, 52a7, 77b5.

Karfík, F. (2021). What is Perceptible in Plato’s Timaeus? Plato’S ≪I≫Timaeus≪/I≫, 213-227.