Plato and the Affect of Art and Poetry
In the Republic of Plato, the famous philosopher that followed in the footsteps of Socrates, Plato created the ideal society in which would only be successful if its citizens were "just." Every being in his Republic has a certain telos, or destiny in life, which must be followed in order for the Polis to thrive. Their actions are guided by their desire to discover and attain knowledge of the absolute truth or true "form." These forms are an aspect of reality, that consists of unchanging, eternal, perfect entities. According to Plato, only the forms can be objects of knowledge. In other words, there is only one true object, which is the form, and everything else is just a replica or "imitation" of that form. Imitations are often associated with imagination, in the sense that imaginative people take mere images and shadows as the most real things. Plato believes that imagination is the lowest grade of cognitive activity. In the state of imagination, people derive their images about themselves and the world from art and poetry. In the Republic, Plato views art and poetry as imitations of the true form. He considers art and poetry as education that is untruthful, irrational, and can cause extreme damage to the State. Plato has a specific role for poetry in his utopia that is controlled by excessive censorship. Art and poetry are a complex issue in the mind of Plato and may have some relevance in today's concerns about the media.
Anything that doesn't completely represent the truth is ultimately bad for the Polis and its people. Plato views art and poetry as dangerous, because they are merely just an imitation of the form. He considers art and poetry as education that furthers people from the truth. Plato believes there is the creator of a product, a carpenter who imitates the creator's idea by making the product, and then there are the poets and artists whose literature and art of the product imitate the imitator's. Plato says, "An artist imitates that which he does not understand." In other words, the artist doesn't know the trade of what he or she is describing. According to this theory, art is a copy of a copy, and leads us even further from truth and more toward a fantasy world. For this reason, as well as because of its ability to affect people's emotions, art is considered dangerous. Plato also believes that art and poetry creates weakness and human irrationality and that the audience is seduced into feeling undesirable emotions. Irrationality and emotions can negatively affect the way people perform certain tasks.
Plato attempts to fix these problems in his ideal society by only allowing "hymns to the gods and praises to famous men." He believes that poetry and fiction is unsuitable for the early education of guardians of the State. The only acceptable subjects for poetry and literature are formally didactic, in which they teach the guardians four cardinal virtues: wisdom, justice, courage, and temperance. He rejects complicated rhythms and instead accepts a more musical style that is simplistic and fortifying, and that would move the guardians toward moral behavior.
Poetry and art should directly reflect the absolute truth. Plato believes in censor poetry, which is a mirror of what philosophy dictates and rids the public of myths. In order for art and poetry to play an acceptable role in the working Polis, they must be censored by following specific guidelines: Gods cannot be related to humans and cannot be deceptive. Gods are always the true forms of good and never the bad. Humans cannot fear the afterlife, because that would demonstrate coward-like behavior causing the Polis to fall apart. Humans cannot be linked with beauty, pleasure, and even laughter, because these feelings and emotions reflect irrationality. Poetry and art cannot mention money, because money is a self-interest and results in greed. However, poetry can be wielded with a purpose such as one that...
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