Back to: Literary Criticism Course
A.N Whitehead, a mathematician, and a philosopher claimed that Western philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato. It is mostly accepted that Greek philosopher, Plato, laid the foundations of Western philosophy.
Plato began asking the question which have been central to Western philosophy: How can we define goodness and virtue? How do we arrive at truth and knowledge?
What is the connection between soul and body? What is the ideal political state? Of what use are literature and the arts? However, his answers to these questions are highly disputed till today.
Plato was born in Athens in 428 BC to an aristocratic family. Like many other young man, he also fell under the spell of the controversial thinker, Socrates. The influence on Plato was so profound that he left his political ambitions and devoted his time to philosophy.
Socrates was declared, as written in a story found in Plato’s Apology, “the wisest man alive” by the Oracle at Delphi. Socrates was against Athenian democracy and also undermined the conventional views of goodness and truth.
He was hanged on the charge of impiety in 399 BC. After the death of his teacher, Plato left Athens, travelled to Sicily, Italy, and Egypt, he came back and founded an academy.
It is hardly believable that a person who wrote dramatic dialogues with a rare literary skill would be against poetry. Plato attacked poetry on three basic grounds: education, philosophy and moral point of view. Plato believed that poetry is form of mimemis.
According to Plato, art deals with imitation of imitation; that is to say, poetry is twice removed from reality. He says that the ideal or perfect reality lies elsewhere, what we see is an imitation of ideal reality and that imitation is not perfect; hence, it is removed from reality.
And, art is the imitation of what we see (which is removed from perfect reality) and, therefore, is twice removed from reality. His theory of reality made him believe that art is nothing but illusion and artists deal with what is not real.
He considered philosophy to be better than art because philosophy deals with the questions of truth. He believed that most of art must be banned because it is not important for an ideal society.
Plato believed that art imparts vices in students, and the characters in the epics of Homer are not ideal because they are greedy, lusty, cunning, etc. He believed that poetry doesn’t teach good habits but corrupts the mind of the children.
Plato believed that the soul a man is divided into two: higher and lower, higher is the reason that brings us closer to the ultimate truth while lower consists of emotions and sentiments.
Poetry provides pleasure to sentiments and emotions and takes us away from reason and anything that is devoid of rationality takes away from the ultimate truth. Plato was staunchly against poetry; he found no advantage of poetry but believed it to be poisonous for an ideal state.