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A Comparative Essay on Plato’s and Aristotle’s Philosophies on Beauty, Tragedy and Art Essay

The existence of philosophies in life is important and valuable because they are to guide and determine the beliefs of a person. These beliefs are what dictates a person to act as such or to say such things. For all of the Classical and complicated philosophies present in the world and founded by great thinkers and philosophers, having a philosophy is as simple as having a belief and that belief is what constitutes our actions, words and thoughts. A philosophy can even dictate on what kind of school or job person would want to go to.

In some instances, there comes a time that shallow or inconsequential perceptions of a personal philosophy arises and though it may seem as thus, it is still important to remember and consider that a personal philosophy is important for a particular person—since it is his or her own beliefs, therefore it is who he or she is or who he or she wants to be regarded as. No one can deny the fact that philosophies have gone through intensive and extensive transformation and progress in the world’s history and it is still transforming and changing in the contemporary times we have now.

From the early ages of the Mesopotamian civilization to the Egyptian kingdoms and to the Romans and the Greeks, the branch of knowledge we now famously call philosophy have had great origins and greater people who made it a point to make their way of thinking or personal beliefs known—Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli and Nietzsche are only some of the few famous philosophers with different beliefs and different perceptions but which all aimed at the same thing—that is they wanted to explain how things function, how life is and finally, to point out that there can be a better way of life for everyone concerned.

Something as simple and mundane as what is happiness or what is love is a catalyst for great amount and efforts of thinking since it aims to answer specific things in life—that is, human beings, how are we as humans and how we function? It is just that in the end, one thing leads to another and we are finally caught up with far more difficult, challenging and complex things.

On the other hand, no matter how complex certain philosophies are and no matter how different the philosophers and their beliefs are, one thing remains the same—the philosophers were excellent people who practiced intellectual art and this intelligence is what lead them to more profound concerns about things which could have been considered as unimportant. Literature and art for example may seem unimportant compared to politics or religion but philosophers also studied and scrutinized them.

Thus, it is most probable that both literature and art (although literature can be actually considered as an art itself) were probably tremendously influenced by the early examples of the Greek and Roman arts. Therefore, the literature and the art which we are admiring and studying today are all influenced by the offshoots of the particular philosophies which the likes of Plato and Aristotle believed in—and Plato and Aristotle were only two of the many known philosophers.

There are many others who actively advocated certain beliefs or their philosophies concerning life and they did it (such advocacy) not just for the pursuit of intellectual development or personal fame but just because they are in pursuit of something greater for humanity as a whole. The likes of Aristotle and Plato advocated such philosophies since they believed that it aims for better things; as what Ahrensdorf wrote:

Philosophy, on the other hand, seems to teach that the pursuit of wisdom through reason alone is the greatest good for a human being, that reason is therefore capable of both understanding the world and of guiding us to happiness, and hence that the world is, at the very least, not opposed to our deepest desires. (p. 151) Thus, though philosophy as a branch of knowledge may be very broad but it also influences many aspects; for example, as what was written before, literature and art (which are also two important branches of knowledge) is undeniably influenced by philosophy as well.

In this paper, the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle will be discussed and will focus on their beliefs about beauty, tragedy and art. Though both great philosophers have great connections and are intertwined with each other, and there are even some vague similarities, their views are still astoundingly different and that is what makes it more interesting and intriguing. The Philosophy of Plato Plato was said to be a student of another great philosopher, Socrates who favourite Plato among his students.

When Socrates died, Plato was said to be devastated and yet, he being a student of the great Socrates, continued his teacher’s legacy and became a man of philosophy as well. It is quite understandable that much of Plato’s philosophies were offspring of the beliefs of Socrates himself though with many exemptions. Plato was more realistic than his teacher and worldlier. Plato’s ideals concentrated on society and the ethical than that of Socrates who concentrated on the more metaphysical and immaterial things of life. In Plato’s philosophies, the definition and function of beauty, art and tragedy, were exemplified and explained.

It is through these three aspects of life that we are able to further understand Plato’s reasoning about his beliefs. Beauty According to Plato, beauty is and will never be linked to the world of arts. In fact, he believes that beauty can never be art and art can never be beautiful. This way of thinking is characterized by his belief that beauty can never exist since if beauty exists then it should correspond to the perfect definition of beauty. For something to be called beautiful it needs to justify such term and label—a thing or a person cannot be beautiful just because someone says it so or it has the attributes of being attractive.

It should instead, exemplify the perfect virtue of being a beauty. Moreover, Plato believes in the knowledge that if something beautiful does exist, then that is the only time that people can commonly acknowledge that such a beauty exists. Therefore, what we as humans have right now is not beauty but a pretentious definition or judgement for beauty—according to Plato that is. (Adajian and Hughes, p. 5) Art Most famous for Plato’s argument about art is that on the subject of poetry. Plato argues that art are mere representations and are not real as what an original object is. Art are therefore considered as imitations, illusions and a lie.

Art is merely copying things in their original form and aims to portray the truth of the original form but they would always lose to its attempts since there is nothing more truthful than the original form and nothing more false than art. Plato’s view on this is most famous for his “thrice removed” belief wherein “artworks present only an appearance of an appearance of what is really real”. In simple terms, there is an idea or “Form” of a person which that person makes into reality or an original physical object but art copies that physical object and is thus, the most inferior of all.

(Adajian) Tragedy Plato’s regard for tragedy is not the same intellectual disgust as what he had for the subject of beauty and art; in fact, he is more hostile with the subject of tragedy as he believes that “by portraying the greatest human beings as suffering beings, tragedy teaches that the world is fundamentally hostile to our aspirations for happiness” (Ahrensdorf, p. 156). Plato, together with the dialogue with his teacher, Socrates (or most likely, inspired by the beliefs of his teacher) further explains why tragedy is not a correct and erring concept.

This due to the belief that tragedy deceives people from the truth and unlike art where imitates or mimics a true “Form”, tragedy actually changes how we perceive true Form and eventually alters how we perceive things. For example, Homer and other tragic poets does not only creates lie with their “soft heroes” they (meaning the tragedies) also portray mistaken ideals about the Greek gods and how people should act regarding their own personal tragedies. Because of these tragedies, people desire terror and misery and when tragic things do happen in reality, a person’s initial and natural reaction would be either in terror or in misery.

Moreover, Plato further explains that because of these tragedies, “human beings unreasonably [become] soft and cowardly by filling them with fear” (Ahrensdorf, p. 158). It can be even said that Plato is disgusted with the existence of tragedy since it fills people with dread about the idea of death and death is something evil. Thus, because of how the tragic heroes are portrayed, the audience or people who watch such tragedies are mistakenly believe that death is something to be feared; in conclusion, it makes people cower and weaklings. The Philosophy of Aristotle

Ironically, another great philosopher from Greece is Aristotle who was a student of Plato and who had another great person for a student—Alexander the Great. If Socrates inspired and influenced Plato, it can be the same for Aristotle who was inspired and influence by Plato. If Plato was more concerned with the ethical, Aristotle was more concerned with the scientific and made famous terms which are known today such as the label for “matter”. More than being a philosopher, he was equally a scientist as well and his philosophies and beliefs would in some point, turn and allude to science.

Though he was a student of Plato and was influenced by him, his beliefs were far different than that of his teacher. For example, on the concepts of beauty, art and tragedy, he had different ideas compared to Plato. Beauty While Plato believed in the inexistence of beauty as long as something actually perfectly beautiful exists, Aristotle believed otherwise. According to Aristotle, beauty exists depending on the things surrounding that object or person. Something beautiful exists because it meets certain conditions of being classified as such and usually, these conditions entirely depend on the things within the vicinity of that object.

Moreover, he defined any object as beautiful if it is clearly and accurately beautiful. Thus, if Plato believed in perfect beauty, Aristotle believed in measured beauty. This is not that surprising since he was a scientist and believed in more logical and reasonable conclusions than that of mere thoughtful imagination; as what Gaut and Lopes wrote, Aristotle explained in many of his writings like Metaphysics and Rhetoric various allusions and explanation on beauty and how it is measurable and definable: This passage appears to assume a definition of beauty in terms of size and proportion.

So beauty is a real property of things. Aristotle says much the same thing in De Motu Animalum, when distinguishing what is beautiful from what is merely perceived as desirable. Aristotle’s beauty is real but equivocal. Its meaning derives from the nature of the beautiful thing in question. Aristotle urges his readers to see the beauty of even repellent animals. All living things boast a design suited to the purpose of their sustenance and reproduction, and that is what beauty comes to. (pp. 25 – 26) Art

Plato is not wholly rooting for the subject of art since it is supposedly an imitation and a lie and it can be concluded that Aristotle shares that same belief. Aristotle defines art as something of a “realization”, a concept which is used to materialize an original and genuine thought. For example, if something is good, and an art is created to depict the concept of goodness then that particular piece of art is a realization. This can be the same as Plato’s philosophy as of art as an imitation of an idea but Aristotle argues that, “Art however is not limited to mere copying.

It idealizes nature and completes its deficiencies: it seeks to grasp the universal type in the individual phenomenon”. (The Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy) Tragedy As opposed to Plato’s definition and concept of tragedy wherein the poets are the ones who creates the tragedy, Aristotle has very different view regarding the concept of tragedy wherein tragedy is based on the hero’s very own nature. Based on the Aristotelian beliefs of tragedy, the hero is wholly good and almost perfect. He is strong, virtuous and good.

The gods favour him because he is the hero but if in the end, it is discovered that he has a flaw, and then he becomes a tragic hero. But there is a critical point on why this is the case. Tragic heroes and their pathetic demise exists for one thing and that is to “purge” the audience of the feeling of fear and sorrow: “tragedy, in depicting passionate and critical situations, takes the observer outside the selfish and individual standpoint, and views them in connection with the general lot of human being” (The Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy).


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