Plato on art

Ion is a rhapsode who considers himself an expert on poetry. Socrates says that rhapsody is not a techne ‘craft’ because Ion can only talk about Homer, no other poets.- Is this like saying knife-making is not a craft because it is restricted to knices?- No because rhapsodes should have knowledge of everything they talk about (contents of poetry, many poets), its like a knife-maker who can only make one kind of knife. Restriction of knowledge to a single poet suggests lack of skill.Rhapsody is a divine power rather than a craft; the poet has no knowledge but is divinely inspired. Compare with magnetic stone that attracts chain of rings; Gods speak through poet, who speaks trough rhapsode to audience.

Poet and rhapsode are mouth pieces of the Gods, they are not intelligent.- ‘The poet is not able to compose until he has become inspired and is out of his mind and his reason no longer with him.’ (534a).Homer writes about chariot-racing, fishing, medicine, divinity and warfare but has no knowledge of these things, Ion has even less (presages book 10).

Ion’s argument becomes absurd and Socrates can be seen easily to win. – Gerald Else: this is young Plato charging into battle before he has heard the trumpet.- Exemplifies prominent theme: non-philosophers do not have knowledge. Divine inspiration contrasts philosophy.

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Republic Book 2
Poetry will be dangerous in the education of Guardians because poets often misrepresent the Gods by suggesting that they can change or cause evil to assist an epic hero, this is inconsistent wight their perfect nature. Poetry depicts just men as unhappy and unjust men happy.

Impressionable children may unquestionably accept these falsehoods. Children may imbibe attitudes unintentionally, unconsciously (e.g. gangster films glamourise violence for children).- ‘The young can’t distinguish what is allegorical from what isn’t and the opinions they absorb at that age are hard to erase and apt to become unalterable’ (328d)

Republic Book 3
Socrates distinguishes between imitative and narrative poetry and concerns himself with imitative. Every person can do only one craft well, so no one can imitate many things as well as they can imitate one (e.g. tragedy and comedy).

The young Guardians should not imitate anything that could distract them from the single craft of ruling. If they do imitate they should imitate only good people doing good actions. – ‘Haven’t you noticed that imitations practiced from youth becomes part of nature and settle into habits of gesture, voice and thought’ (395d)- ‘Though they must know about mad or vicious men and women, they must not imitate anything they do’ (396a)-‘He will welcome reason when it comes and recognise it easily because of its kinship with himself.’ (402a)Guardians must also be taught music for ‘the improvement of the soul’ but gymnastics must accompany music because otherwise music will produce ‘softness and effeminacy’.Plato bans all imitative poetry from the just state apart from that which imitates decent people doing good actions.

Issue arising in Book 3
– Plato treats imitation like a craft here, one person can only imitate one thing well, this argument usually applies only to crafts. In the Ion Plato says that rhapsody is not a craft because it involves no knowledge.

What is the status of imitation?- Why does Plato need to ban poetry in the whole city, why not just in education. Surely intelligent adults aren’t at risk of being damaged through imitation when they are no longer impressionable? Or of accepting falsehoods (Book 2). Maybe they would not imitate well and poetry badly imitated is bad… There is a chance that children could see things being imitated if it is not banned all together. – The kind of poetry allowed (decent people doing good actions) would be very boring, no poet would write it, is Plato implicitly banning all poetry?

Analogy with painting (Book 10)
A painting of a bed (third removed from truth) is an imitation of particular bed (twice removed form truth), which is an imitation of the form of the bed (truth).

The painter has no knowledge of the bed because knowledge involves recognising the form of the end for what it is, only philosophers have such knowledge. The painter imitates a bed as it appears, not as it really is. The image of the bed that the painter imitates will change as the painter looks at the bed from different angles and distances. – ‘Imitation is far removed from truth, for it touches only a small part of each thing and a part that is itself only an image’ (598a).Only an image can be present to the mind, properties of an object are misrepresented in perception (Hume).The same thing may appear to be both small and large when it is near/far, reason is required to reveal the truth. It is impossible for the same part of the soul to contain opposites towards the same thing at the same time, so the part of the soul that believes what is at face value without measuring and weighing must be a different part of the soul to reason.

– ‘calculating, measuring and weighing are the work of the rational part of the soul.’ (602d)The imitator of images does not use the rational part of the soul but the inferior part, because they do not create with knowledge their product is far from the truth. Imitations misrepresent the nature of what they represent so cannot be a source of knowledge.

The non-rational soul does not question but accepts what is shown to is uncritically.- ‘Imitation is an inferior thing that consorts with another inferior thing to produce an inferior offspring’ (603b)

Analogy as applied to poetry
Asmis: all imitation in general is the imitation of an appearance, not of things as they are in the world. the painter renders aspect of reality as they appear to him, so does the poet; these appearances prompt the ignorant to take them for the real thing but they are distortions produced by imitators of their own world view.Plato thinks that poetry is much more dangerous than poetry because the appearance presented by poetry as reality is more compelling and more irrational and that presented by painting. The distinction between an object and its representation (image) is ontological and thus not perceivable by us, thus reactions to objects and their representations will be similar, it is bad for us to react to sorrow and anger as expressed in poetry as though they are real emotions because emotion engages the lower part of the soul and the rational part is needed to remind the subject that they are only watching a performance. The ontological distinction between poetry and what it imitates is more subtle than the distinction between painting and what it imitates.

All artists (imitators) produce without knowledge of their product. The painter is to the bed as the poet is to human action. The poet does not know what makes a just king or skilled doctor or brave general but only what behaviour seems just, skilled, brave etc.The imitative poet imitates people who are ruled by the lower part of the soul (e.g. dramatic griever rather than measured griever) because they are easier to imitate and more easily understood by the sort of people who go to the theatre (non-philoosphers). The poet also is ruled by the non-rational soul part if this is who he is able to imitate.

If the audience do not know what wisdom/justice/bravery is their conception of it will change as a result of what is presented in poetry. the only kind of poetry that should be admitted in the state is praises to famous men and Gods.

Does Plato miss the value of art?
Aesthetics features randomly at he end of the Republic because Plato does not distinguish between ethics and aesthetics. Plato is blind to any value of art distinct from its ethical and epistemological value, he treats it as a craft. Nowadays we see art as having value purely for it beauty, its thought-provoking factor, challenging nature, etc.

But art as we understand it in this way did not come to exist as a concept until the 18th century (Abbe Charles Batteux), so we do not need to criticise Plato for missing the value of art that we have today? For him it was just another part of education and should be assessed by epistemological and ethical standards. Asmis says Plato does not distinguish between imitative art and expressive art, he also misses this point. He sees art as only having instrumental value, no value in itself (philistine). Any pleasure produced by poetry is irrelevant because anything trying to represent something else should not be judged for its pleasure.

– Plato treats art like a craft to provoke response from the artists, imitators are not simply representing reality, they are doing more than this, but what is this more?

Bridle analogy
Knowledge is possessed by the user of a thing (horseman), belief by the maker (cobbler) and neither by the imitator of a bridle (painter). The horseman knows how the bridle works and tells the cobbler how to make it best, the same for flute players and flute-makers.

Is the analogy successful?
Painters imitate a solid object in the material world that stands between their image and the form of the bed. There is no such clear middle term for the poet who imitates actions that are not obviously courageous (a courageous action may also be stupid, thoughtless, etc.) what makes an action courageous is not so clear as what makes a bed a bed.

the same can be said for a person (e.g. general). – Only the philosopher can imitate accurately, but in being a philosopher an artist will cease to be an artist, and the philosopher cannot be good at both philosophising and imitating.

Poetry as morally corrupting
The product of imitation appeals to the lower part:- ‘It arouses, nourishes and strengthens this part of the soul and so destroys the rational one.’ (605b)- ‘With few rare exceptions it is able to corrupt even decent people’ (605c)The soul is divided into a part that accepts things as they look (bent oar in water) and a part that evaluate things via measurement.No one can be good at more than one craft, the poets who write about varied things are the most dangerous.

Rational part is needed to correct the non-rational part when it sees an oar in water that looks bent or just king that is unhappy. Imitation exploits a weakness in our nature causing the lower part of the soul to become stronger, threatening the justice of the individual, who is just and happy only if he is ruled by the rational part of the soul. It is inappropriate for us to indulge emotions at the theatre, if we are going to be emotional it is better to be so when emotion is provoked by a real issue.

More problems with the analogy
– Plato does not specify which lower part of the soul is engaged with poetry and painting, it seems unlikely that distances and angles on a 2-dimensional canvas and false emotions undermine rationality in the same way.- Both poetry and painting make it difficult for us to distinguish between reality and illusion; they both undermine rational judgement in this way.- It is more difficult to distinguish representation of emotion from reality than representation of material object form reality. Accepting poetry as reality has greater moral consequences than accepting painting as reality. Plato seems to accept that painting and poetry are different because he bans poetry from the state but not painting, imitation alone is not criteria for banishment.

Poetry was treated more authoritatively that painting in plato’s society and therefore had more power to corrupt. – If even wise people can be corrupted by something as trivial and worthless as poetry how can they achieve a just state? (urmson) Why would intelligent adults be unable to distinguish representation from reality?- Moss: plato never spells out the connection between the metaphysics of imitation and its charge of ethical harm.

Reconciling Book 10 and Book 3
– In Book 10 Plato talks about all poetry in general, he does not distinguish between mimetic and narrative poetry, as in Book 3, where only imitative poetry was condemned. He assumes all poetry is imitative. – In Book 3 poetry was only seen as imitative for impressionably children, not everyone, and only then in education, when children are imitating themselves, in book 10 Plato suggests that even going to the theatre is morally damaging.

– In Book 3 Plato si concerned only with the content of poetry (harmful characters), in Book 10 he attacks the form of poetry (imitative), this critique has force only if one accepts Plato’s metaphysics. – Plato writes, ‘we didn’t admit any that is imitative’ but this is clearly not true, he only banned poetry imitating bad people. the separate parts of the soul do show more clearly that such poetry should be excluded. – Nehemas suggests that plato is not referring back to Book 3 here but to the fact that he has described the just state and it doesn’t feature poetry, his contemporaries would have been shocked by this and required an explanation.

Maybe he is examining the banishment of poetry for the first time. Socrates asks glaucoma what he understands as imitation at the start of Book 10, this would not be necessary if it were following from Book 3. – Theory of Forms and tripartite soul are essential to Plato’s critique in Book 10, these have not yet been developed in Book 3.

Book 3 is a prelude to Book 10, whole Republic can be seen as a journey through Socrates’ stream of consciousness, now that he has these theories he can more thoroughly condemn poetry, for its form as well as its content. – In Book 3 imitation was done by the one reciting the poetry, in Book 10 imitation is done by the poet. Who is the imitator? both?