Peter A Goldsbury
The 'imperfect shadows' were the preferred expression in the Republic, as can be seen from the Allegory of the Cave. However, in the later dialogues, notably the Parmenides and Sophist, Plato subjected the theory of Forms to some criticism and wrestled with the problem of the relationship of the Forms to the changing objects that they were to be Forms of and whether every type of object had its Form.
The 'imperfection' of 'imperfect shadows' does not really explain the relationship. A shadow is a replica of the object of which it is a shadow only in outline and is also pretty firmly connected to the object. Objects do not have the same connection with Forms, since the latter are in a world apart. So the metaphor only goes some way in attempting to explain the relationship. There is a vast secondary literature on the topic of participation (and self-predication) in the middle and later dialogues.
These images were picked up by Bonaventure, with some significant modifications, and in him there is an introit to a close parallel in Japanese thoughts on such things in Miura Baien's work on the nature of Ki
. Bonaventure's thought on hylemorphism, is a unifying dualism of the same order as Baien's 條理 jouri
, because for Bonaventure the division of spiritual and corporeal matter and form is one of operation and result -- not one of origin or nature...
In fact, the image of their concepts is remarkably similar. Both acknowledge an initial fundamental unity that achieves a functional division into celestial and terrestrial substantive forms. Baien's work sustains a trope of unity and emergent distinctive form/substance in the image of exposed branching of trees in winter (which form the image in the character 條 jou
). This is echoed in the term hyle-morphism (usually seen as hyle
- 'wood' in the limited sense of 'stuff' or 'matter') but the word is larger, connoting 'trees' themselves and 'forest', not just their product as a base material. Aquinas's extension of hylemorphic change with co-emergent forms and substances compare favorably in this sense to the nature of the One primal Ki that divides into yin and yang and then ten-thousand enfolded iterations of those branching divisions that are explained in Baien's jouri
concept . The close association of kami
-- seen also in the sense of kotodama
-- can be placed in a like parallel from a purely Shinto perspective in the progressive emergence of the highly familial, eight myriad myriad kami.
The sense in which the intermediate steps are lost or skipped over, in shortcuts or instantaneous metaphors (in different ways by different languages and cultures) are actually now demonstrated as a highly practical part of information theory -- under the same terminology -- where the hylemorphic, un-wieldy "tree" structure that reaches the particular result or instance of meaning is simultaneously unfolded/collapsed in tandem (anamorphic and catamorphic transitions). The essential operation that creates the resulting substantive form is still there but implicate, like the grain of the wood records its growth pattern (and the resulting loss of various minor side-branches) (which happens to be a similar image encoded in the character ri
理 the pattern of grain or veining in jade, and classically likened to the grain of wood.)