Particulars are shadows or reflections of Universals that
somehow participate in the Universals. Plato offers no
literal explanation of participation. Somehow the Universals
project out or shine forth into the emptiness of space thus
casting shadows or reflections of themselves and causing the
particulars of the sensible world to come into existence.
According to Plato, the soul is born with knowledge that it
forgets when it is imprisoned in the body. Knowledge is thus
buried in the mind (or soul). Encounters with particulars
activate the soul's knowledge of Universals. When one's
memory is jolted, he is prompted to turn inward in order to
look upward to find the Forms. True reality cannot be known
by logic or reason, it can only be known through mystical
experience (i.e., intuition and revelation).
Plato maintains that the soul must have come from the world
of Forms. This can be criticized on Plato's own terms.
Whereas Forms are Universals, the soul is a particular. How
can a particular soul exist in a world of Universals? Only
"soulness" should be there. In addition, if the soul
actually had a previous existence, shouldn't the awakening
of the innate universal ideas revive the memory of the
soul's previous existence itself?
Plato observes that only a select few, who have been endowed
with the innate capacity to contemplate, are able to master
the path to true knowledge. The few who are attuned to true
reality are by natural right the rulers of the vast majority
of men. Plato calls for a benevolent despotism of the select
few who are willing to live the life of the mind and to
ignore the pleasures of the material world.
Plato's metaphysical and epistemological dualism is also an
ethical dualism of good and evil, right and wrong. There is
a moral conflict between the world of the senses and the
world of the intellect. To attain happiness one needs to
turn away from the material world and its inclinations and
instead attend to the contemplation of timeless, changeless
The soul, which understands that happiness consists in the
world of Ideas, is never satisfied with the knowledge of
inferior degrees. Because the higher world is better, it is
moral to turn to the better world. The highest form of love,
according to Plato, is the love of wisdom that is only found
in the higher world of Forms beyond this world. It follows
that the soul wants to escape from the bodily world to rise
to the world of Forms to be with the highest degree of
knowledge. Plato is thus espousing an otherworldly egoism –
self-denial and sacrifice in this world in order to obtain
salvation and the highest values in the higher world.
Plato's Ideas are endowed with real existence in a world
superior to the world that we see. It follows that the
citizens of Plato's state should concern themselves with the
transcendent world and not give in to the inclinations of
sense and passion.
Plato explains that not only should a man shun the pleasures
of the sense world in the name of loyalty to a higher
dimension, he should also deny his individuality in the name
of unity with the collective. An individual man is just a
particular shadow cast by the Universal manness. It follows
that all men make up one unity and that no one person is an
autonomous reality. In politics, this leads Plato to
collectivism. The individual is simply a fragment, whereas
the group (the collective) is a higher manifestation on
earth of the Universal manness. It is closer to the whole.
Collectivism is a higher and closer development toward the
Universal manness. The individual is thus subservient to the
group. Since the needs of the whole take precedence, the
individual should put aside his own interests for the needs
of the whole.
This leads to Plato's advocacy of a life of self-sacrificial
service to the community, the standard of value in society.
Through his efforts to extinguish his own individuality,
each person will become one with the community and live only
to serve its welfare.
Plato's organic theory envisages an omnipotent state that is
more real than the individuals who live within it. This
state is to be ruled by a special elite of philosophers who
have the ability to escape (as far as is possible in this
world) the domain of sense experiences and rise to the
contemplation of universal Ideas. For Plato, the criterion
of morality is the interest of the state and the proper life
is one of selflessness and renunciation.
On earth you are to obey the state (i.e., the
philosopher-kings) that teach you to eschew the bodily world
and purify the soul through self-sacrifice. If you do this,
then you are rewarded in the higher world – egoism is put off