Dante, Plato, Aristotle

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The assignment is poetry v. philosophy. Plato speaks of a quarrel b/t poetry and philosophy. He dismisses the arts while Aristotle defends them. DO we see traces of this quarrel in later traditions? If so, where? And how is it played out there? For this essay, in addition to Plato and Aristotle, focus on Dante's Inferno.

(Please look to see if my thesis is clear and strong, my evidence is all relevant, and whether this whole essay persuades you)

Throughout his life, Plato strongly believed that the arts and philosophy directly opposed each other. On the other hand, Aristotle defended poetry as an aid to philosophy. Dante, a philosophical poet, successfully synthesizes Plato and Aristotle's views in the Divine Comedy of the Inferno without compromising either school of thought. He acknowledges the fact that while the arts have its uses within the material world and philosophy its uses in the spiritual, both need the other to be complete. Both Plato and Aristotle agree that poetry brings about great emotion which has a lasting impact on the individual and society. However, they disagree on poetry's emotional effects. In Meno, Plato believes it results in harm while Aristotle argues that it leads to improvement in Poetics. Upon closer inspection, we see that Dante's Inferno contains a philosophical significance underlying its poetic style. Poetry and philosophy work towards the same end, but in different ways.

There is no doubt that poetry is an imitation. What Aristotle and Plato dispute over is the source of that imitation. Plato strongly states that the arts are mimetic, twice removed from the truth. They are an imitation of the ideal entities in the realm of the forms, in which all things are perfect. For instance, tragedy presents multiple possibilities and situations rather than a single essence. In Meno, Plato's Socrates discusses the difference between doxa and episteme. Poets, politicians and priests utilize doxa, a type of knowledge that is not mediated through any intellectual reasoning. This further demonstrates the composition of the material realm. Right opinion, or doxa, flees from the mind just as the materialistic body quickly perishes. Socrates says opinion is not worth much until it is "fastened with reasoning of cause and effect" (Plato 65). He is alluding to episteme, true knowledge that remains in the brain. This is accomplished through intellectual inquiry in the ideal realm. Throughout the dialogue, Menon insults Socrates by saying he looks like a stingray, alluding to a type of numbing-drug. However, Menon proves to have false knowledge as Socrates shows how anamnesis occurs via the Socratic Method. Only when he experiences aporia, the state of confusion and realization of one's ignorance, can he reach true knowledge. The reference to the drug, pharmakon, symbolizes how Menon became numb to the false, material world in order to transition to the divine realm where all things originate.

While Plato asserts that imitation comes from the true essence of things, Aristotle believes it has its roots in human action. In Poetics, he examines how humans have an instinct for imitation, harmony and rhythm. We often learn our earliest lessons from mimesis. Aristotle asserts that the only way to reach the ideal is through action. He views it as a horizontal developmental rather than a vertical one, as Plato did. By the process of energia, we move from potential to actuality. This is also analogous to the concept of the material to the ideal. We come out of the cave and into the sun through our own activities. As the arts best represent action, tragedy contains knowledge because it presents psychological possibilities and universal truths about ourselves. Each possible reality may be the ideal essence. Tragedy, after all, is an imitation of action and of life, not men. The stage externalizes what's within our souls. The actors play out the meaning of life which the audience can safely inspect without...
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