In Plato’s Republic, Socrates tries to find the answer to the question: “What is Justice? ”. He does this by creating a perfectly just city in order to find justice in the soul. He discusses how the citizens in this city, especially the guardians, should be educated. In this essay I will explain how, according to Socrates, the arts educate and why arts are therefore an important topic in politics. Education in arts is still an often discussed topic, so I will conclude by discussing briefly if censorship in the arts should be warranted.
According to Socrates, education in the arts is an important aspect of education. Arts have a major influence on one’s soul and therefore certain arts are allowed in the city, whereas others should be censored. For example Socrates describes that certain parts of Homer should be censored, because people tend to imitate what they see. “What about if they are to be courageous? Shouldn’t they be told stories that will make them least likely to fear the death? ” (386a). If the guardians have to be brave, they should not read or hear stories of gods who fear, because as a result they will imitate what they see.
This tendency of people to imitate what they see is used by Socrates in his ideas on education. “If they imitate anything, they must imitate right from childhood what is appropriate, people who are courageous, temperate, pious and free” (395c). By discussing the different types of arts with Adeimantus, they find a suitable program of education in the arts for the guardians, and which kind of arts are not allowed in the city. “He will praise fine things, take them into his soul, and become fine and good” (401e).
For instance they find a suitable program of education in lyric and odes in music for the guardians. After discussing with Glaucon, Socrates says: “Leave me these two harmonies, then the forced and the willing, that will best imitate the voices of temperate and courageous men in good fortune and bad” (399c). Another form of imitation and therefore important with respect to education, is the imitation of other people. Therefore, only good and virtuous people are allowed in the city. There is no place for vicious, slavish or drunk men, so that the citizens will not imitate them.
“They must know about mad and evil men and woman, but they must not do or imitate anything they do”(395d). As a result they will be unpractised in imitation of such people. It is equally important for the just city that people will not practice other pursuits outside of their own task, being guardian, producer or ruler. “Whereas each individual can practice one pursuit well, he cannot practice many well, and if he tried to do this he would surely fail to achieve distinction in all of them” (394e). One can only practice one pursuit well, and therefore should not imitate other pursuits.
At the end of book III, Socrates and Glaucon start to discuss who would be an appropriate judge in the perfectly just city. They conclude that the judge must be an older man with a lot of life experience, because then he will have a lot of knowledge and will be trained in making good decisions. They go on and state that a judge can only make just decisions if he has a fine and good soul himself. “It itself must have no experience of bad characters while it is young, if as a fine and good soul itself, it is going to make judgements about what is just in a healthy way” (409a).
Again we see what is stated before about the guardians. In order to fulfil their task properly, the judges have to be educated well, and should not be confronted or imitate people with bad characters. The same goes up for politics. That is why education in the arts is an important topic in a book about political order. To rule or judge in a proper way, Socrates concludes that you should be educated in the arts by a certain pattern. Summarizing Socrates argument, education in general and more specifically in arts is an important factor for creating a just political order.
Socrates way of education in the arts can be seen as censorship: only certain pieces of art are allowed. In Nazi-Germany there was a specific word for art that did not have appropriate educational effects on the citizens according to the regime: entartete kunst, which means derailed art. Is censoring of the arts something we should propagate? I will comment his vision in three ways. First of all I want to question the effect of arts according to Socrates. Socrates claims that arts should be censored, so that the citizens will not imitate wrong characters or wrong ideas.
However, people do not only intend to imitate arts, they also identify themselves with arts. For example if you listen to sad music when you are not feeling well, this might help you dealing with your emotions, because you can identify your own emotions to the song played. This identification is called catharsis. Thus it could be said that diversity in arts actually may help people in dealing with their emotions instead of stirring people in the wrong direction. Besides, people can learn from arts that represent the ‘bad’.
How can you distinguish good and bad, if you have never seen the bad before? Secondly I would like to look back at our history, as we should learn from mistakes we have made before. If you look at totalitarian regimes like the Pol Pot regime or Nazi-Germany, we see that the state used censorship to indoctrinate people. By censoring arts and propagate only the states ideas, people were brainwashed, and this could still happen. Nowadays in the most prosperous and democratic countries arts are not being censored. Thirdly it is important not to forget the practical side.
Because who is to judge what will be allowed and what will not? There are no objective norms to apply. Only in very specific situations, censoring of certain pieces of art may be necessary. For example Mein Kampf, the book that Hitler wrote on his extreme ideas, has been censored in several countries. Extremist arts that hurt ethnical groups or cause hatred sometimes have to be censored out of respect. There are still many discussions about to what extent certain arts are allowed and the influence the state should have on art and culture.
In my opinion, the state should not determine the content of arts, but facilitate them by subsidizing them. Diversity in arts is important for our development and critical thinking, and so should be maintained. Socrates ideas of education in the arts have been of major importance in history and today’s society still. If he really did think that a perfect state had to look like his perfectly just city can be argued. But Socrates does deal with several fundamental problems in our society, and lets us think critically about the way our state functions.