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Imitation Plato and Aristotle Essay

Introduction Plato and Aristotle are two famous literary critics in ancient Greece. Aristotle is Plato’s student. They all agree that art is a form of imitation. However, their attitudes towards imitation are profoundly different. Plato claims that poetry is worthless and bad because it is mere imitation and may have bad influence on human beings. Instead, though Aristotle admits that poetry is imitation, he thinks that it is all right and even good. He also explains that imitation of life should be valued rather than discounted (“Plato and Aristotle”).

This paper is to discuss the different understandings of Plato and Aristotle on imitation. Imitation of Plato Plato thinks that poetry is a form of imitation. However, he is deeply suspicious of the arts because, in his view, they appeal to the emotions rather than to the intellect (Michael). He thinks that this imitation is far removed from the reality and it is only a “game”. As a result, it is worthless and bad. He also claims that imitation in tragedy can have a bad influence on human beings.

As he says in The Republic, a good imitation can undermine the stability of even the best humans by making us feel sad, depressed, and sorrowful about life itself. Firstly, Plato claims that an imitation is at three steps removed from the reality or truth of something (“Plato and Aristotle on Art as Imitation”). In Plato’s opinion, knowledge of truth and knowledge of good are virtually inseparable. If there is no truth, there is no good too. As a result, he counsels rejection of the physical in favor of embracing reason in an abstract, intellectual, and ultimately more human, existence (Stephen).

Plato thinks that the world of appearance does not really represent the reality because in his opinion, it is the forms which can only represent the essence of the world. The tangible world is imperfect because there are many kinds of appearance but there is only one thing that is true—idea. As a result, art widens the gap between truth and the world of appearances (Stephen). We can see that from his book The Republic. In Book X of The Republic, Plato’s prolocutor Socrates says that there are plenty of tables and beds in the world, but there are only two ideas or forms of them—one of a bed and the other of a table.

He also says that the makers of the table and the bed make them for our use according to the ideas, but no artificer can make the ideas themselves. Worse still, painters draw a bed or a table according to the ones made by the artificers. As a result, Socrates concludes that imitative art is at three steps far removed from authentic reality (Michael). There is a sentence that can well show Plato opinion, “the tangible fruit of any human labor is an indistinct expression of truth” (Plato, Book X). From this sentence, we can see that in Plato’s opinion, art as an imitation is irrelevant to what is real.

Secondly, Plato also thinks that artists offer nothing important and meaningful in their imitation. As a result, he concludes that imitation is only a kind of “game”. Here is the good evidence, in The Republic; Socrates concludes that imitation is a kind of game and not something to be taken seriously. He explains that such imitation is disengaged from the realm of knowledge and truth-testing entirely, constituting an autonomous, arbitrary “game” onto itself (Bo). Plato thinks that imitation is a game because it engages only the appearance rather than the truth.

He mentions in his book The Republic that imitation is far removed from the truth, for it touches only a small part of each thing and a part that is itself only an image. And that, it seems, is why it can produce everything. He uses the painter as an example. He says that the painter is not the maker of things, but the imitator of which others have made. Thirdly, Plato claims that a good imitation can undermine the stability of even the best humans by making us feel sad, depressed, and sorrowful about life itself (“Plato and Aristotle on Art as Imitation”).

In Plato’s opinion, imitation may pose a challenge to philosophy and even can have a bad influence on people because imitation can be false, and false imitation can mislead people. No matter art is perfect in its imitative process or art is flawed, it is not only worthless, but also a challenge to truth in general (Stephen). In The Republic, Plato writes that “The power which poetry has of harming the good (and there are very few who are not harmed) is surely an awful thing”.

Here, we can see that he suggests that art is a potential danger to society. As a result, Plato’s critique of art as imitation is linked to a negative appraisal of its social utility: Art is dangerous, for its appeal to the irrational distracts us from the legitimate claims of reason (Bo). As it was mentioned above, we can see that Plato admits that art is imitation.

However, he is deeply suspicious of the arts because he thinks that firstly, an imitation is removed from the reality or truth of something; secondly, it offers nothing important and meaningful; thirdly, imitation can have a bad influence on human beings. As a result, he concludes that imitation is worthless and even bad.

Imitation of Aristotle Aristotle is Plato’s student. However, he holds a very different attitude towards imitation. Aristotle also admits that art is imitation, but according to him, this kind of imitation is all right and even good. He explains that firstly, imitation is a creative process of selection, translation, and transformation from one media to another (Stephen). Secondly, tragedy can be a form of education that provides moral insight and fosters emotional growth and a successful tragedy even produces a catharsis in the audience (Michael).

Thirdly, he also thought that imitation is natural to humans from childhood (“Plato and Aristotle on Art as Imitation”). Firstly, in Aristotle’s opinion, imitation is a creative process of selection, translation, and transformation from one media to another. Plato claims that imitation is far removed from the truth or is only a small part of truth. However, Aristotle thinks that imitation can reflect the truth in a better way because it is a creative process. According to Aristotle, the world exists in an infinitely diverse series of parts; human beings can have a good knowledge about these parts by observation and scrutiny (Stephen).

As a result, different from Plato’s opinion that artists offer nothing important and meaningful in their imitation, Aristotle concludes that artists are makers, selecting certain details, excluding others, giving a work its particular shape, not a deceitful scribe (Stephen). Here, we can see that according to Aristotle, imitation is a distillation of universal truths from contingent, merely and particular facts rather than an arbitrary “game” because to submit something to literary imitation is not in the least to attempt to be true to its appearance, although it is an attempt to be true to its truth (Bo).

Secondly, to Aristotle, imitation such as tragedy can be a form of education that provides moral insight and fosters emotional growth and a successful tragedy even produces a catharsis in the audience. According to Plato, imitation can be a danger to the society because imitation can be false and false imitation can mislead people. However, to Aristotle, imitation such as tragedy can be a form of education that provides moral insight and fosters emotional growth (“Plato and Aristotle on Art as Imitation”).

Aristotle even characterizes tragedy as effecting the “catharsis of pity and fear” in his Poetics because with tragedy as the catalyst, people will develop their knowledge of good. As a result, we can see that Aristotle treats imitation as an ethical endeavor rather than a danger to the society (Stephen). Thirdly, Aristotle also thought that imitation is natural to humans from childhood and imitation makes human beings different from other living creatures. We can find the evidence in his Poetics.

In this book, he mentions that the instinct of imitation is implanted in man from childhood, one difference between him and other animals being is that he is the most imitative of living creatures, and through imitation learns his earliest lesson. From his description, we can see that in Aristotle’s opinion, human beings begin imitating as early as when they are children. Imitation not only enables human beings to gain knowledge about the world, but also makes human beings a distinctive creature. As it was mentioned above, we can see that Aristotle holds a very different attitude towards imitation from Plato’s.

According to Aristotle, imitation is a creative process and a form of moral education. It is also natural to humans from childhood and imitation makes human beings different from other living creatures. As a result, he concludes that imitation is all right and even good. It should also be valued rather than discounted Conclusion Though both Plato and Aristotle are two famous literary critics in ancient Greece almost at the same time and they all admit that art is a form of imitation, their attitudes towards imitation are very different.

Plato claims that poetry is worthless and bad because firstly, it is far removed from the truth or idea; secondly, it is mere imitation and just a “game”; thirdly, it can have a bad influence on people; however, Aristotle thinks that imitation is all right and even good because firstly, imitation is a creative process; secondly, it is a form of moral education; thirdly, It is natural to humans from childhood. Works Cited Aristotle. Poetics. 11 November, 2007. . Bo Earle. “Plato, Aristotle, and the imitation of reason.

” Philosophy and Literature. October, 2003: 382. Michael Moor. An introduction to Plato and Aristotle and their significance to the performing arts. 6 October, 2007. < http://web. ukonline. co. uk/michaelmoor/an_introduction_toplato_andari. htm> Plato and Aristotle. 25 October, 2005. . Plato and Aristotle on Art as Imitation (Mimesis). 8 November, 2007. . Plato. Republic. Peking: China Social Sciences Publishing House, 1999. Stephen Conway. Plato, Aristotle, and Mimesis. 8 November, 2007. .


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