top-rated free essay


By mhotsi May 01, 2013 1018 Words
Plato’s account of imitation would seem to be relatively simple at this stage; mimesis appears to be translatable as “representation”, an expression of character whereby the poet (using dialogue) and the actor (in a dramatic presentation) imitate a character. Furthermore, where that imitated character has undesirable traits, the imitation is to be avoided. And later, in Book X, Plato claims that most poetry of necessity contains evil men (in order to produce interest and pleasure), and this too forms a basis for a wide-ranging condemnation of poetry. That imitation has harmful effects is a complex matter; Plato’s argument rests on several crucial assumptions concerning the effect of poetry on an audience. In Book II he claims that “a young man must not be allowed to hear that he does nothing strange when he commits the most shocking offenses” (Republic, II, p25). Such a claim recalls the dialogue of The Ion, in which “a whole series of the inspired” (Ion, p13) arose from a poet’s recitations; that is, the poet is inspired by the Muse and the audience is in turn filled with inspiration by the poet. A much stronger argument against imitation appears in Book X of The Republic, where Socrates begins by saying “all the imitative arts seem to me ruinous to the mental powers of all their hearers” (Republic, X, p42). Plato then begins a detailed discussion explaining imitation from first principles – its mechanism and its relation to truth. The argument is based largely on the theory of Forms and certain relations between the art of poetry and painting. In this argument all art is taken to be mimetic, as opposed to Book III’s more limited use of mimesis. All imitation, Plato argues, has little connection with truth; poets work in a similar way to a painter, who imitates the appearance of a bed which in turn is made by a craftsman from an idea in nature (and therefore the work of God). “An imitator” is defined by Plato in terms of painting; since painting is concerned only with appearances (as opposed to, say, the use to which objects can be put), Socrates says “you call him who is not in direct contact with nature an imitator” (Republic, X, p45). Furthermore, the imitator, being so far removed from the truth, can have little knowledge of what he imitates so can thus have little conception of the inherent goodness or badness of his work. Rather it is their function to deceive: “the imitator seems all-wise because he himself is unable to distinguish between knowledge and ignorance and imitation” (Republic, X, p46) and later: “though he knows only how to imitate, yet to those who are as ignorant as himself he really appears to know” (Republic, X, p48). In order to produce pleasure, poets must of necessity imitate “the disturbed and unsettled character” (Republic, X, p52), and so the poet “sets up a badly governed state in the soul of each individual” (Republic, X, p52), that is, causing a harmful effect upon the individual, which thus corrupts the state if practised on a wide scale (the political state being the prime concern of Plato). In short, such imitation deludes the senses and does not appeal to reason; this claim is based on Plato’s categories of the soul. His conceptualisation of both the political state and the individual soul separates reason and will (operations of the mind) from pleasure and the passions (occupations of the senses). In the doctrine of the Line the similar attributes of knowledge vs. illusion are approximated into a linear scale. Since poetry appeals to the more illusory sense perception, it is placed lower in the scale; it cannot therefore have any access to the Forms, the highest reality possible. Comparing poetry with holding up a mirror to reality and with painting suggest that imitation is merely a representation of how things appear; under Plato’s scheme the poet is “an imitator of what he knows nothing about, a mere appearance” (Republic, X, p48). As with painting, so with poetry, says Plato; he does not treat poetry on its own terms. Indeed, there are several crucial differences between the arts of painting and poetry (as pointed out in John Dryden’s essay “A Parallel Betwixt Painting and Poetry”); for example, that the function of painting is to provide pleasure, while poetry’s function is to instruct. Certainly these arts use very different methods and it is difficult to conceive their functions as identical as Plato makes out. Indeed, the parallel that Plato assumes has been described even as “non-sensical”. Plato takes the object of imitation to be the same in both; that is, they imitate appearances of things (which are essentially static, not active). Much of Plato’s condemnations of poetry stem from the view that poetry should represent truth, and truth is obtained through knowledge. Knowledge however is located within the various crafts (shipbuilding, generalship etc.), but it is plainly impossible that any man can have a perfect knowledge of all crafts to the smallest detail. Even if there were such a man, Plato would “send him away to some other city” (Republic, III, p41) anyway! Such an argument (using crafts as the location of knowledge) is common within Plato’s writings. Ancient Greek thought held that poetry, drama, and other forms of fine art were imitations of reality, a reality that could be actual or potential. Indeed, their phrase for what we think of as “fine art” was “imitative arts”, and great importance was attached to poetry as an integral part of the Greek education. Some questions naturally spring from this broad theory of art, for example: what exactly is being imitated by the poet or artist? How is it being imitated, is the imitation a straight copy, a distortion or an improvement in some way? Finally this leads us to questions of the end of poetry itself, and its justification for existence, that is, why imitate at all and can we obtain knowledge and/or pleasure through it? Both Plato and Aristotle, the foremost philosophers of their time, arrived at widely different answers t

Cite This Document

Related Documents

  • Aristotle's Defense of Poetry Against Plato

    ...BARUT 31.10.11 2008210003 TKL301/ TAKE-HOME EXAMINATION ARISTOTLE’S DEFENSE OF POETRY AGAINST PLATO IN THE LIGHT OF LITERARY CRITICISM As literary critics, Plato and Aristotle have different opinions on poetry and also it’s social effects. Plato’s Republic is a work which is not directly about li...

    Read More
  • Plato

    ...There were many great philosophers who have contributed in making philosophy what it is today, one of them being Plato. In addition to being an outstanding philosopher, he was also a mathematician and a writer. One of Plato’s biggest inspirations was his very own teacher Socrates. Socrates never wrote down a word of what he said, but thankfull...

    Read More
  • Plato

    ...427-347 BC Updated, 10/3/07 The Republic is one of Plato’s longer works (more than 450 pages in length). It is written in dialogue form (as are most of Plato’s books), & it addresses major issues in almost all of the branches of philosophy. The central theme in the book seems to be the nature of justice, a topic in political phi...

    Read More
  • Plato: the Republic (Book 1)

    ...Introduction to Philosophy Plato is one of the many philosophers who have had an influence on the ideas of humane thinking. Born in Athens, believed to be around 428 BC, Plato has expressed various works pertaining to idealism and the theory of forms. Plato has made many allegories and metaphors of life. One of his many famous writings ...

    Read More
  • Platos Contributions

    ...Contributions It is believed that Plato, a student of Socrates, was one of the greatest contributors of philosophy. Proof of Plato's notoriety in the world of philosophy can be clearly seen with his dialogues and his renowned student Aristotle. Plato’s writings are in the form of dialogues, with Socrates as the principal speaker. With his the...

    Read More
  • The Greek Philosopher Plato

    ...The Greek Philosopher Plato Plato was born in 429 B.C.E. and died in 347 B.C.E. he was one of the classical Greek philosopher who was also mathematician. He was one of the most dazzling writers in the Western literary tradition one of the most penetrating, wide-ranging, and influential authors in the history of philosophy, Kraut (2004). Plato ...

    Read More
  • Socrates, Plato and Aristotle

    ...Plato’s “The Apology” he gave the idea that truth needs to be pursued by changing your position through questioning and conflict with opposing ideas. It is THIS idea of the truth being pursued, rather than discovered, that characterizes Socratic thought and much of our “Western” philosophical thought today. Plato: Plato was born i...

    Read More
  • Critical Analysis of Plato and Aristotle

    ...Philosophy Critical Analysis Essay In ancient Greece, the value of truth was a highly ascertained goal sought out by the most influential minds of the time. Both Plato and Aristotle, followers of Socrates and the Sophists, were certainly among the forerunners in this pursuit. They both developed new theories on systems of thought based o...

    Read More

Discover the Best Free Essays on StudyMode

Conquer writer's block once and for all.

High Quality Essays

Our library contains thousands of carefully selected free research papers and essays.

Popular Topics

No matter the topic you're researching, chances are we have it covered.