Topics Worth Investigating

  1. It has often been written that Plato opposed a democratic form of government because his teacher Socrates was convicted to death by the Athenian democracy. Plato writes in this reading:

    The imitative artist … imitates only that which appears to be good to the ignorant multitude.

    To what extent do you think the effects of art upon the emotions of a democratic citizenry influenced Plato's attitude toward the place of the arts in the Republic?

  2. Plato writes that the arts are "thrice removed from the truth":

    Thus far then we are pretty well agreed that the imitator has no knowledge worth mentioning of what he imitates. Imitation is only a kind of play or sport, and the tragic poets, whether they write in iambic or in Heroic verse, are imitators in the highest degree?

    Both Frederich Schiller[1] and George Santayana[2] also describe ęsthetic creation as play. Schiller sees play as a synthesis of sensuous and formal impulses; Santayana notes the distinction between work and play in terms of the difference between moral and ęsthetic value. How, then, does Plato see art as play? Would he agree that just as children play at being grown-up, so likewise artists play at another kind of pretense? Compare the various senses of "play" among these philosophers.

  3. Contrast Socrates' discussion of the rational and irrational principles of soul as expressed first in Book X of The Republic, second with Diotima's account of eros and wisdom in the Symposium, and third in the myth of volition and desire represented as the two horses of the charioteer in the Phaedrus.

  4. What, if any, aspects of Plato's imitative theory of art survive as part of Plotinus' account of beauty in the first Ennead, Sixth Tractate? Compare Plotinus' account of Beauty with that of Diotima in the Symposium.

  5. Explain what kinds of things participate in Forms? Are there different kinds of forms, i.e., moral and ęsthetic ideals, natural kinds, physical objects, or even opposites to moral and ęsthetic ideals (such as forms of evil or the ugly)? Would there be a form of "animal" as well as a form for "horse," "dog," and "man"?[3]

  6. Discuss whether or not Socrates' account of Forms in this reading selection is subject to an infinite regress, somethimes termed "Third Man Argument." The argument can be summarized as follows:

    If a form exists for any collection of things which have something in common (i.e., One Over Many premise) and the form which is the form of the group, itself, is part of the form (i.e., the Self-Predication premise) and the form of the form is not in the collection of things (i.e., Non-identity premise), then Plato's theory is inconsistent.

    Specifically, all instances of beauty are beautiful. But what is beautiful would seem to be another instance of beauty. Consequently, all instances of beauty and what is beautiful would compose a new and higher form of the beautiful. And so, an infinite regress seems to result. The Self-Predication premise and the One Over Many premise seemingly cannot both be true.

  7. Plato writes of the goal of the artist:

    Now let me ask you another question: Which is the art of painting designed to be—an imitation of things as they are, or as they appear—of appearance or of reality?

    Of appearance.

    And has Socrates conclude:

    I mean, that you may look at a bed from different points of view, obliquely or directly or from any other point of view, and the bed will appear different, but there is no difference in reality. And the same of all things.

    Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque developed a radically different form of painting in the early twentieth century, labelled Cubism, to create multiple viewpoints instead of a static perspective from one point of view. In this manner, the Cubists hoped to represent more accurately three-dimensional reality. To what extent is the Cubists' attempt to reject the theory of "art as imitation or representation" and to present convincing evidence of the theory of "art as reality" successful?

  8. Is Diotima's account of beauty in the Symposium consistent with Plato's Theory of Forms? Are the doctrines of immortality and transmigration of the soul consistently described?

Notes

[1]

Frederich Schiller. "Letter VXI." Letters on the Ęsthetical Education of Man. 1794. Trans. Tapio Riikonen and David Widger. In Literary and Philosophical Essays: French, German and Italian. New York: Collier. 1910.

[2]

George Santayana. "The Nature of Beauty. "The Sense of Beauty. New York: Scribner's. 1896. Ch 1.

[3]

C.f., A. E. Taylor. Plato: The Man and His Work. London: Methuen, 1926. 518.