Platonism vs. Universalism

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Transformation of Platonism into Univeralism

Plato is credited with the idea of a world of pure forms, of which the present world is an imperfect reflection. For example, there is a pure form of man, after which ordinary men are modeled as imperfect reflections. Thus, according to Plato, we compare ordinary men to the pure form, and due to the similarity between the pure form of manliness and the imperfect men of this world, we call them men. A natural implication of Plato’s philosophy is that everyone should try to emulate the perfect form, and even imperfect men should try to become perfect men. This is essentially a morally virtuous idea.

However, this is not how Platonism has been interpreted. It was quickly perverted by saying that a select group of men—initially Greeks and subsequently Romans—were ideal, while others (Africans, Arabs, and Asians) were non-ideal. Thereby, Greeks and Romans did not have to do anything to perfect themselves. They were already perfect by their birth, features, culture, ethnicity, and so on. However, everyone else was imperfect. Therefore, the Platonic idea of emulating the perfect form did not apply to Greeks and Romans. It only applied to the other races. In fact, since the Greeks and Romans were already perfect, emulating these men was the goal for every other society, ethnicity, culture, and so on.

Thus arose, from the Platonic theory of pure forms, multiple oppressive, sectarian, and exclusivist ideologies, including Christianity, which borrowed Plato’s ideas and weaponized them for their purposes. In each such ideology, one group of people is supreme. Those who try to emulate this group are better, although not on par with the supreme. Everyone else exists only to serve the supreme group of people. While Plato did not contribute to this development, he is not entirely innocent of it either because he never defined any pure form.

The History and Problems of Defining Universals

Saying that there is a pure form of manliness is not wrong. But what good is that pure form unless we define what that pure form is? Plato left all these questions unanswered, creating a vacuum in which later generations simply filled their traits as the traits of the pure forms.

Platonism is a reformulation of Greek pagan religions in which there were numerous demigods in some heaven. Greek gods and goddesses included the deities of fire, air, water, sun, moon, fertility, war, etc. However, pre-Socratic Greek philosophers decided to abandon Greek religions and pursue what we would today call “secular philosophies”. They would talk about non-religious ideas like Being and Becoming, the nature of reason and passion, to arrive at some non-religious view of the world. But they did not succeed. The paradoxes they ran into—such as the paradox between Being vs. Becoming—paralyzed Western thinking for centuries.

The standard problem with everything was providing a definition. Let’s say we try to define a man as a two-legged animal. Then should we say that a man who lost a leg in a war is no longer a man? How about a man with six fingers? Is he a man? Socrates debated these kinds of issues and showed that nobody had a definition. A secular philosophy was thus impossible.

The Conversion of Truth into Popularity

Plato then revived the Greek pagan religious idea by transforming demigods into pure forms. The pure forms were in heaven and their imperfect reflections were on earth. But to avoid most men becoming imperfect, the perfect form was defined as the most abundant type of man found in one society. Men with two legs and five fingers were more perfect because they were the most abundant types of men. Thereby, a Platonic form came to be defined by the most commonly found traits, making almost all men perfect and imperfection an outlier.

We can extend this problem of defining pure forms to everything. What is beauty? It was whatever the Greeks thought was the most common idea of beauty. What is justice? It was whatever the Greeks thought was the most common idea of justice. Purity was decided by the popularity of some particular idea among the Greek elites. The opinion of slaves was irrelevant because by the consensus of elites, they were imperfect men, so their opinions were also imperfect. Thus, by the thumb rule that the most common opinion among a select group of people was the pure form, all pure forms were constructed by a consensus among a select group of people. Now, truth equaled popularity. The popular definition was the truth.

It is hard to overestimate the problems when everything is decided by popularity among those who call themselves perfect people. If we take away their sense of superiority, then there is no rational foundation for their claims. Therefore, all such claims are preserved by suppressing and destroying all other alternatives. The destruction of the alternative is called universalism because the opinion of some people is elevated to the universal truth. Universalism always comes with a racist, supremacist, or oppressive idea of forcing the truth by fiat, rather than by proving that it is the better idea. Thus, Platonism is transformed into Universalism and pure truth is replaced by the opinion of some individuals whose claim to fame is their sense of superiority. We see this pattern repeat at every key juncture in Western history.

The Use of Popularity to Construct Exclusivism

When Romans accepted Christianity, hundreds of people wrote their stories about Jesus and called them Gospels, which were circulating among their respective bands of followers for about four centuries. Most of these Gospels did not agree with the other Gospels on numerous core principles. Then a select group of people gathered to decide which of these Gospels should be accepted or rejected as the universal truth. While this group called themselves the Catholic Church (catholic means all-embracing), they burned, buried, and banned most of the circulating Gospels to synthetically construct what is today known as the Bible.

Most people don’t know that the Bible did not exist for four centuries after the crucifixion of Jesus and was cobbled together from a variety of conflicting religious narratives by a select group of people. The method by which some Gospels were included in the Bible remains opaque to historians. All they can say, after the study of the surviving but excluded Gospels, is that they differ significantly from the Bible. The fact is also that even the Gospels included in the Bible don’t concord with each other on numerous questions although the disagreements between the included Gospels are smaller than with the excluded Gospels.

How Persecution Defined Modern Science

The synthetic construction of the Bible, and its elevation to the universal truth, is a common method by which the most important claims have been constructed in Western history. Their purity and truthfulness remain in doubt. Hence, those who questioned them were often killed. Anyone with the greatest power can enforce his opinion as the highest and purest truth.

A similar process was used to construct modern science. A group of people gathered together to form a society that then received royal patronage and came to be known as the Royal Society. All early members of the Royal Society were faithful followers of Francis Bacon, and they had gathered together inspired by his writings. Those writings, which delineated the idea of a “controlled experiment”, were inspired by Bacon’s profession of witch-hunting.

Those called “witches” were pagans who worshipped nature. Christianity, which depersonalized nature, called nature worshippers Satanic. They were captured and tortured according to prevailing laws until they revealed the names of other witches, after which, they were often hanged and burned. All these jobs were done by witch-hunters, such as Francis Bacon. Bacon’s idea of a scientific method was based on the interrogation of witches. An experiment was the courtroom of witch interrogation. The torture of witches through mechanical implements was became the universal paradigm by which nature had to be compelled to reveal her secrets.

Like interrogators put criminals in a box, science creates “controlled experiments” assuming that nature has been put into a box. The fact is that nature is inside the box, outside the box, and the box. The box is not cutting off nature’s access to itself because that box is also nature. The isolation of nature from nature by nature is just a delusion. Even the idea that a criminal’s behavior inside the box is exactly his behavior outside the box, is worth only a laugh. And yet, modern science rests on this laughable proposition. It claims to discover some truth through a “controlled experiment” which is extended to everything after removing the controls.

The fact is that “controlled experiments” are the root cause of all problems in modern science because they divide reality into hundreds of imaginary boxes which only exist in the laboratory and not outside of it. Through artificial and imagined fragmentation, every subject becomes incomplete because the boxes don’t exist, whatever is outside the imaginary box influences what is inside it, but the scientist ignores what is outside the box and looks for causes inside the box. This is the legacy of the British elites influenced and impressed by the writings of a witch-hunter. Their consensus defines modern science, although even a casual examination would reveal its fallacies. Therefore, the scientific method defends itself by calling everything else “pseudoscience” because it cannot justify itself without name-calling alternatives.

False Consensus at the Roots of Democracy

The same process of collectively agreeing on what is rationally indefensible was used during the drafting of the US Constitution. A select group of “representatives” gathered to frame a constitution for the United States. The main item of compromise was slave ownership under which those states that had abolished slavery would return escaped slaves to their owners in states that continued to legally endorse slave ownership. Slavery and democracy were equally accepted within the US Constitution disregarding the conflic between the two.

The US Constitution stated: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” But the equality of all men did not apply to slaves. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were not for all. Since the constitution stated that these were self-evident truths for all, the conclusion was that slaves weren’t human.

How Consensus Truth Deals With Outliers

This is a common method for dealing with outliers and exceptions to whatever worthless dogma is created through consensus. When something doesn’t fit the artificially concocted doctrine, it is labeled by the opposite word. The method of shaming by naming has been used repeatedly while defining pure forms, religion, science, and constitutions through a consensus among a select few. Those who don’t fit the Greek elite’s definition of beauty are ugly. Those who don’t follow the Roman elite’s religion are Satanic. Those who don’t conform to the British elite’s definition of science are pseudoscientists. Those who don’t fit into the American elite’s definition of men are barbarians. Name calling the outlier supports illusory universalism.

After the completion of negotiation among the few who are part of the consensus-building group, the definition produced through compromise amoung the chosen few is raised to the level of Platonic pure truth. The Greek idea of beauty became the pure idea of beauty. The Roman idea of religion became the pure idea of religion. The British idea of the scientific method became the pure idea of science. The American idea of government became the purest form of government. Nobody knows how we go from a negotiated settlement in this world to pure Platonic truth in the transcendent world. But quite habitually, a compromise reached during a closed-room negotiation is elevated to the level of Platonic pure truth.

The Abuse of Platonism for Exclusivism

A constitution has dozens of amendments to suit the needs of the time. Religious texts are modified hundreds of times for politicla purposes. Scientific theories change frequently to fit the new data. The ideas of beauty change with every fashion fad. But they are all called pure and eternal Platonic forms. There is no imperfection in them as far as the outsiders are concerned. The insiders, however, are free to change whatever suits them whenever they want. The system of universalism is hypocritical to the hilt. Double standards are standard.

There is always a machinery, developed, designed, and deployed to suppress any alternative viewpoint. Even if something escapes the suppression, their proponents are called enemies, heretics, Satanic, witches, and pseudoscientists, and are burned at the stake, often literally and sometimes metaphorically. Universalism thereby always breeds exclusivism.

In general, well-meaning wise guys defining something for a larger group would be welcome if their definitions were improving everyone. For instance, if a pure human was defined as a truthful, selfless, kind, and generous person, then emulating that person would benefit everyone. But if those who lack the above purity call themselves pure, then the result will be disastrous. Hence, the principle of wise guys defining a pure form for everyone should not be equated to a select group of guys calling themselves wise guys while excluding others.

Western universalism is a front for some people to force their opinions on others. The self-appointed wise guys have no clue what a pure form is. Their definition is not open to a rational discussion. The persecution that follows any opposition is not justifiable. The self-appointed wise guys expect to be treated nicely for proposing bad ideas. But they don’t extend the same courtesy to others who propose good ideas. The mentality of the self-appointed wise guys is seen in the claim that God sends a heretic to eternal hell while sending the believer to etenral heaven. These are fictions concocted by self-appointed wise guys to justify the elimination of those who disregard their claims while calling that elimination “God’s will”.

Therefore, Platonism is the most abused philosophy as it allows some people to play God, without the good qualities of God. They are not interested in pure forms. They concoct ideas they find convenient to their interests and elevate them to pure forms. Then they use propaganda to convince everyone. Then they intimidate others to instill fear in everyone. And those who are not convinced and intimidated are made examples to reinforce the message. I doubt Plato could have imagined the extent to which Platonism would be abused.

Universal Truth vs. Supreme Truth

Platonic pure forms have some similarities to the idea of Param-Satyam in Vedic texts. This term is translated as the highest truth, best truth, and original truth. It does not exclude lower truths, good truths, and subsequent truths. This is just like there is a pure form of human, but there are other humans, who could be impure to varying extents. There is no good vs. evil binary in which Param-Satyam is good and everything else is evil. There is instead a ladder of truths, and something is called evil if it is very low on the ladder. However, even those low on the ladder are encouraged to rise up the ladder. The concept of eternal punishment and eternal hell does not exist. This is not an endorsement of those who are low on the ladder. It is the endorsement of minimal punishments that can raise a person on the ladder.

Platonic pure forms were transformed into Universal Truths during Greek and Roman times, creating the good vs. evil binaries by priests and emperors to anoint themselves as pure humans, bringing everyone under their control. This idea became so entrenched in Western thinking that people today don’t know the difference between Platonic pure forms and Universal Truths. The difference is that a Platonic pure form is the Supreme Truth expanding into a ladder of lower truths, while a Universal Truth is the only truth. The purity of the Supreme Truth is established by proving how it is the topmost rung of a ladder but no such proof for the Universal Truth exists. A Universal Truth is always axiomatized by a powerful establishment and then forced upon everyone through intimidation and persecution.

Keeping the distinction between Platonism and Universalism obscured suits some people because if the distinction was known, then we will return to discussing what the pure form of everything is, and realize that it is not that which  “wise guys” designated as a pure form.

Cite this article as:

Ashish Dalela, "Platonism vs. Universalism," in Shabda Journal, April 27, 2023,