Computational Platonism

Allan Randall
Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology
Plato's theory of forms is developed and compared to the modern theory of recursion. I show how Plato's theory, as it applies to mathematical objects, is essentially a primitve version of modern recursion theory, which has all the essential elements of the ancient theory. However, Plato himself thought there was more than mathematics to his forms. He believed that form had a noncomposite, unanalyzable component. So, while recursion theory provides an adequate formalization of Plato's theory, it cannot be considered identical to it. I argue--drawing from material in the "Meno," "Phaedo," and "Republic"--that Plato's arguments for noncomposite form are largely fallacious. Plato would, I believe, have taken the computational version developed here seriously, since mathematics was his primary source for clear examples of forms (one could argue that it was his only source short of dipping into mysticism). In fact, there is a long-standing oral tradition that Plato developed a more formal version of his theory in lecture notes for courses he taught at the Academy (the university he founded in Athens). Any such notes, if they existed at all, have been lost. But if such a formal version did exist, it is tantalizing to wonder to what extent Plato may have anticipated modern theoretical computer science and metamathematics.
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