A Comparison of the Philosophies of Plato & Aristotle
And the Ultimate Beneficial Nature of the Tragic Drama By: Stephanie Cimino
In the various discussions of imitative art there has been a notable disagreement between two distinguished philosophers; Plato and Aristotle. Although it was Plato who first discussed the concept of imitative art, it is my belief that Aristotle was justified in his praise and admiration of imitative art, specifically, the tragic drama. In my discussion on the two philosophers’ dissertations I will begin with the ideas of Plato and his position and requirements for imitative art and its respected uses, after which I will discuss the ideas of Aristotle to show that the tragic drama fulfills Plato’s requirements exhibiting qualities of measurement and finds its intended purpose. “While Plato insists that artistic imitation, especially tragedy, feeds the passions and misleads the seeker after truth, Aristotle answers that the arts in general are valuable because they repair the deficiencies in nature and that tragic drama in particular is justifiable because of the moral contribution it makes. Tragedy is a means of gaining knowledge, through its presentation of philosophic truths, and is a way of coping with the enthusiastic states common to all men.” (79)
Plato is regarded as “the founder of philosophical aesthetics” (3) His philosophies of art, imitative art, and beauty were centralized around the design of an ideal society and the ideal citizen or statesman discussed in The Republic. To understand Plato’s distrust and dislike of imitation, specifically tragic drama, we must first discuss his definition of Art. “Art, generally conceived as techne, presupposes a knowing and a making; knowing the end to be aimed at and the best means for achieving the end. – Basic to any one art is the art of measure without which there can be no art at all. For to know the proper length of a speech - is to command the art of measurement (3,4)
Plato believed the rational principle of the soul thrived on the art of measuring. “The better part of the soul is likely to be that which trusts to measure and calculation- and that which is opposed to them is one of the inferior principles of the soul.”(39) In Plato’s idea of forms he discusses three beds made by three artists; God, the divine maker, who creates the Bed that exists in nature; the Carpenter, the maker of the appearance of the bed; and the Painter who paints a picture of a bed that is only an appearance of the bed made by the carpenter. It is in this discussion that Plato reveals his distrust and dislike of the imitative artist due to his far removal from the truth, and thus, removal from God. Plato viewed God as composing the universe as “an imitation of ideas or unchanging forms”, (3) the statesman’s relationship to God is that he “envisages the human community according to the ideas of justice, the good, courage, temperance, and the beautiful” (3) It is with this schema that Plato dismisses the imitative poetry of Homer, Hesiod, and many other poets of the time claiming that they do not know about the subjects they speak of. Homer specifically, writes on subjects including military tactics, politics, and education to which Plato proposes the question, “What state was ever governed by your [Homer] help?” (35) He also distrusts Homer and Hesiod because of their negative portrayal of the Gods in their stories. Plato, who believed all good things to be contributed to God alone, believed the portrayal of Gods as immoral would be detrimental to his ideal state. “Hymns to the Gods and praises of famous men are the only poetry which ought to be admitted into our state.” (43) Plato believed that the imitative art of the tragic drama awakened the inferior part of the soul with its excitement and in his understanding, far removal from the truth. As an example, in a tragedy the poet portrays...