Reblogged - Connecting Freud and Plato through Obverse Platonism

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Sigmund Freud [1] was an Austrian-German psychotherapist, who wrote some books and presented many ideas in the field of psychology, when the subject was in its infancy. Here are the key points that Freud brought into this field.

Division of mind into conscious, subconscious, and unconscious elements. Further claiming that unconscious and subconscious aspects like dreams and hypnosis are most important. Emphasizing on the urge to break rules, like longing to incest with mother (what he called the Oedipus complex). Overall, generalizing ideas from behavior of individuals like Dora[7], who was in a mentally disturbed state of hysteria.


Despite many shortcomings and contradictions I see in his approach, the one thing that draws me to the ideas of Sigmund Freud is his cultural impact. In this age, when Pragmatism or aversion from principles, or aversion from abstract ideas as such, is mainstream; in this age you can just look at ideas of Freud, and cultural products like movies or commonly spoken phrases, and point out that ideas do impact culture and people. Specifically the lingua or phrases I am thinking about is slang like mother f*****r or sister f*****r, connecting it to the idea of Oedipus complex by Freud. Or his focus on characters like Dora (Ida Bauer), and widely popular movies like Psycho, or Exorcist, or Shutter Island, or Silence of the Lambs. If we look into essence of lead characters in these movies and also few other plot elements, signature of Freud is unmistakable.


The deeper understanding of Freud’s ideas will require some digression. A look into the ideas of Ancient Greece, specifically those of Plato and Aristotle. How these ideas, which originated in 4th Century BC, impacted the intellectuals like Freud in 19th century AD?

Basic summary of Plato’s ideas is as follows. There is this world that we see, which is imperfect in every respect. There is this other world that we should strive to know, but we cannot see. For example this world has circular rings or spherical rocks, which clearly vary from ideas of circle or sphere. The other world has perfect circle and sphere, which are the cause of corresponding imperfect objects in this world. Similarly it can be extrapolated that perfect human is in the other world, and humans on earth are shadows of the One. There were other Platonic ideas like Authoritarian dictator he called Philosopher King, pure (Platonic) love devoid of carnal instincts etc. With some application these ideas can be also traced back to the dual world theory.


Aristotle’s focus, as is quite clear from this painting, was on this world.


He rejected existence of the other world of forms by Plato, and instead focused on forming concepts through categories, inferences through syllogisms etc., and deriving ideas from objects one could look and see. Geometric circles for example are a “quality” (in contemporary terminology we will call it “attribute”) of circular rings.


A chain of intellectuals, mostly in Roman-Christian culture, distributed and applied the ideas of Plato. These intellectuals included Plotinus, Porphyry, Saint Augustine, and some more.

The Christian idea of Original Sin, cemented by Saint Augustine, claims that every human is not just imperfect, but irredeemable in this world. Only hope is to give up pride and focus on salvation in the other, most perfect world.


­­­Aristotle’s influence started becoming mainstream with Saint Aquinas in 13th Century AD. With Newton applying Aristotelian logic to usher scientific revolution in 17th Century, and ideas like Liberty from American Revolution through John Locke in 18th century; this worldly Aristotelian ideas started dominating Platonic-Christian ideas.


This brings me to the reaction to Aristotelian dominance in 18th century. A committed Christian and intellectual Immanuel Kant came up with a new Philosophical system. Rather than uphold Plato, his intent was to develop a system similar to that of Plato, with the objective of confusing Aristotelian ideas.

So here also two worlds were postulated, but the other world was not a higher reality like that by Plato. Like Plato the inferior world was the one we could look and see, but the superior world was also around us, not an entity like heaven. Only we could not observe (or infer from Observation) this noumenal world, because our senses distorted the true view. Since Aristotelian idea of one world had established the Law of Identity, Kant discredited Aristotle by appealing to the identity of human sense organs.

Unlike Plato who claimed that superior world can be known through some direct connect like intuition, for Kant noumenal world was unknowable. And since abstract ideas like those of Ethics cannot be seen, so he postulated that ideas like Altruism or sacrifice as good cannot be scientifically derived. Instead these should be accepted on faith, through the term he called Categorical Imperative [2].


The contemporary philosophy of Pragmatism is the product of ideas of Kant. Since as per Kant abstract ideas were unknowable, so advocates of Pragmatism denounced principled and abstract thinking. Instead advocating action based on limited or no thought. Further, current wave involving ideologies like Egalitarianism and Nihilism is also an application of Kantian Philosophy.

Since Altruism through Categorical Imperative is an important component of Kantian Ethics, so Equality of outcome through Egalitarianism, and destruction of well-to-do through Nihilism for achieving equality are often advocated.


The ideas of Pragmatism, Egalitarianism, and Nihilism have become mainstream in 20th century. Before, in 19th century and early part of 20th century, the time when Freud was active, Kant had a different type of impact.

Instead of directly leading to ideas like Pragmatism, application of his philosophy, the ideas of Kant (and ideas of his predecessor Hume to a lesser extent), mainly stunted and stopped the dissemination of application of the Aristotelian ideas. As a result of this sudden halt, the academic focus shifted back to the application of Plato’s philosophy, and also application of Platonic thinking Christian ideas encouraged.

During Aristotelian rise since 13th Century, and dominance since Newton and Locke in 17th and 18th century, the cultural focus was on understanding and improving this world, through methods like scientific discoveries, institutionalizing Liberty, and Industrial Revolution. With Platonic thought coming back to forefront, the focus on this world remained, but the perspective of this worldly focus became Platonic.

Plato had postulated that superior world is perfect, and this world is transient and miserable. So Christian-Platonic culture in pre-Aquinas era involved focus on superior world, with cultural representatives like priests and nuns giving up the worldly pleasures. But Christian-Platonic thought in post-Kantian era focused on what Plato regarded as inferior and miserable, this world. Therefore the term Obverse Platonism. (Obverse means the other side).

Obverse Platonism is the acceptance of Platonic premise involving 2 worlds, and also the premise of this world as ugly and miserable. But rejection of Platonic recommendation of looking up to the superior, intuitively understood world. Instead continuing to look and understand and struggle in this hopeless world, as long as you can.


First major product of this thought was the Philosophy of Hegel. The superior world is eternal and static, but the world we live in is changing and full of flux. Then came Communist Manifesto. Superior world is harmonious, where there is peaceful co-existence. In our world you are either exploiter or exploited. Since Win-Win relationships in this world are impossible, bourgeois ends up exploiting Proletariat in a Capitalist society.

So while Plato proposed dictatorship of Philosophers, Karl Marx tweaked the idea and offered dictatorship of Proletariat to curb and reverse ugly human instincts that drive this miserable world. Similarly French Revolution started with Aristotelian idea of Liberty, but they too ended up with a dictator.

This seemingly contradictory time has been elegantly captured in the opening of the novel A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens [3]. Best Time (Aristotelian perspective) — Worst time (Obverse Platonic perspective), Wisdom (Aristotelian) — Foolishness (Obverse Platonic), Light (Aristotelian) — Darkness (Obverse Platonic), hope-despair, everything-nothing etc.

So in a nutshell, scientific, free-thinking, and industry inducing ideas of Aristotle were in a decline. And depravity upholding, reason disparaging, and industry hating Marxist ideas of Obverse Platonism were on the rise.


It was during this dominance of Obverse Platonism that Sigmund Freud started his practice of psychotherapy in Vienna.

Since Plato and Christianity upheld rules of decorum in public space, Freud through Obverse Platonism believed that humans have an urge to break rules. Further, due to Kantian influence which intended to confuse Aristotelian ideas, Authoritarian rules from Christian-Communism-Platonism were falsely packaged with naturally derived rules like respecting and learning from wise people in society and family. There is nothing authoritarian about respecting genuine social boundaries, when these promote material and mental flourishing.

So end result of Obverse Platonic application of Freud were ideas like incest with mother. At a broader level, ideas like Freudian slip communicated a general view of human nature.

Focus on conscious ideas deliberately written in certain books is what Christianity and other religions promote (especially the monotheistic ones). Freud with Obverse Platonic premise promoted primacy of sub-conscious and unconscious aspects, over conscious aspects. Aristotelian application would have upheld conscious over sub-conscious, while acknowledging that sub-conscious is extensively used in productive endeavors like driving or drawing or forging. (I reject the idea of unconscious mind as proposed by Freud, because mind, a faculty for awareness not being conscious and still working is a contradiction of terms. There is enough empirical evidence for sub-conscious though.)

Further, since Aristotle upheld this world, so application of his ideas focused on positive people like wise men and productive humans. But Obversely Platonic Freud had a world view of earth as miserable. So according to him disturbed and deranged individuals like Ida Bauer were true representatives of humans. For Freud purpose of Psychology was to focus on Criminals or negative aspects of humans like lying, cheating, manipulation etc. Aristotelian purpose would have been to train sub conscious using conscious, for improving skills like writing or machine use or repairing.

So it’s no surprise that post-Freudian world came up with ideas like Game Theory, focusing on thought process of criminals trying to Game the system. (In Aristotelian Psychology focus on criminals will still be there, but not as prime-movers. Instead criminals will be secondary, being blockers or speed-breakers for producers).


Despite focus on negative human attributes and social elements, like Plato, Freud also had one positive contribution to the field he worked in. Plato rightly classified philosophy as the study of 5 branches. Metaphysics or the nature of reality and worldview, Epistemology or the method of thinking, Ethics or the methods of action based on guidelines, Politics or social structures involving Government, and Art or creation of artificial reality.

The answers by Plato were two worlds in metaphysics, supernatural thinking as primary in epistemology, emphasis on authoritarianism in Ethics and Politics, and Art as a distraction from rational thought. These answers were of course wrong, but questions or the division of the subject into proper branches was correct. And eventually, we did get right answers from Aristotle’s philosophy, and now even better answers from Ayn Rand[4], Dr. Peikoff[5], and Dr. Binswanger[6].

Like Plato, Freud also correctly classified the key insights in the subject of Psychology. Insights like the division of mind into conscious and sub-conscious, with one of them being primary, is perhaps the most significant. Emotions being a critical part of psychology is another insight. Of course, given the Obverse Platonic premise which upheld miserable world, focus was on negative emotions of hate, anger, sadness and fear. Positive emotions of desire, joy, and love were mostly explored from a hedonistic perspective, rather than the depth of thought these emotions deserve.

With right questions from Freud, and right guidelines from Aristotelian philosophy and Objectivism of Ayn Rand, subject of Psychology has a lot to offer to humanity. So let’s introspect using correct methods, and explore the most complex entity in nature, the human mind.




[3] Opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens — It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way — in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.





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