Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Plato's Objection to Poetry



Plato was the most distinguished disciple of Socrates. the 4th century BC to which he belonged was an age of inquiry and as such Plato’s chief interest was philosophical investigations which form the subject of his great works in form of dialogues. He wasn't a professed critic of literature and his critical observation isn't found in any single book. They lie scattered in seven of his dialogues, more particularly in the Jon, the symposium, the republic and the laws. 

He was the first systematic critic who inquired into the nature of imagination literature and put forward theories which are both illuminating and provocative. He was himself a great poet and his dialogues are the classic works of the world literature having dramatic, lyrical and fictional elements.




He gives the theory of mimesis (imitation) The arts deal with illusion or they are imitation of an imitation,
Twice removed from reality. As a moralist Plato disapproves of poetry because it is immoral, as a philosopher he disapproves of it because it is based in falsehood. He says that philosophy is better than poetry because philosopher deals with idea/truth, whereas poet deals with what appears to him. He believed that truth of philosophy was more important than the pleasure of poetry.

According to him all arts are imitative or mimetic in nature. He wrote in the “Republic” that ideas are the ultimate reality. Things are conceived as ideas before they take practical shapes. So, idea is original and the thing is copy of the idea of chair in his mind. Thus, chair is once removed from reality. Thus, poet/artist takes man away from reality rather than towards it. Thus, artist deals in illusion.


Plato’s three main objections to poetry are that poetry is not ethical, philosophical and pragmatic, in other words, he objected to poetry from the point of view of education, from philosophical point of view and from moral point of view.

It is not ethical because it promotes undesirable passions, it is not philosophical because it doesn't provide true knowledge, and it is not pragmatic because it is inferior to the practical arts and therefore has no educational value. Plato than makes a challenge to poets to defend themselves against his criticism. He ranks imitation on a lower plane than narrative, even through his own works read like dramatic scripts. It appears as through his reasoning is that imitation of reality is not in it self bad, but imitation without understanding and reason is bad.

Plato felt that poetry, like all forms of art, appears to the inferior part of the soul, the irrational, emotional comedy part. The reader of poetry is seduced, in to feeling undesirable emotions. To Plato, an apparition of poetry is incomparable with an apparition of reason, justice and the search for truth. He suggests that poetry causes needless lamentation and ecstasies at the imaginary events of sorrow and happiness. It numbs are faculties of reason for time being, paralyses the balanced thought and encourages the weaker part of soul constituted of the baser impulses. Hence poetry has no healthy function, and it cannot be called good.

To him drama is the most dangerous form of literature because the author is imitating thing that he/she does not understand. Plato seemingly feels that no words are strong enough to condemn drama. Plato felt that all the world’s evils derived from one source: a faulty understanding of reality. Miscommunication, confusion and ignorance were facts of a corrupted comprehension of what always strives for truth.

His primary objective in the “Republic” is not come up with the most righteous, intelligent way to live one’s life and to convince others to live this way. Plato’s question in book X is the intellectual statues of literature. He statues that, the good poet cannot composed well unless he knows his subject. He who does not have this knowledge can never be a poet. Plato says of imitative poetry and Homer, a man is not to be reverenced more than the truth. Plato says this because he believes that Homer speaks of many things of which he has no knowledge, just as the painter who paints a picture of chair doesn't necessarily know how to make a chair. His point is that in order to copy or imitate correctly, one must have knowledge of the original. Plato says that imitation is twice removed from the truth. Stories that are untrue have no value, as no untrue story should be told in the city. He states that nothing can be learned from imitative poetry.

In book II and III Plato’s main concern about poetry is that children’s mind are too impressionable to be reading false tales and misrepresentation of the truth. Plato reasons that literature portrays the Gods as behaving in immoral ways should be kept away from children, so that they will not be influenced to act the same way.

Plato has some very negative views on the value of literature, he also states the procedures that he fills are necessary in order to change poetry and literature from something negative to something positive. He does feet that some literature can have redeeming values. Good, truthful literature can educate instead of corrupting children. Plato does not want literature to corrupt the mind, he wants it to display images of beauty of grace.

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