Topics Worth Investigating

  1. Compare Aristotle's and Plato'stheories of mimesis with respect to truth in art.

  2. What is the fundamental basis of the difference between Aristotle's and Addison's doctrine of magnitude? Aristotle writes:

    [A] beautiful object, whether it be a living organism or any whole composed of parts, must not only have an orderly arrangement of parts, but must also be of a certain magnitude; for beauty depends on magnitude and order. Hence a very small animal organism cannot be beautiful … Nor, again, can one of vast size be beautiful; for as the eye cannot take it all in at once, the unity and sense of the whole is lost for the spectator; as for instance if there were one a thousand miles long. …[1]

    Joseph Addison, on the other hand, argues that the intellect dislikes limits and restraints:

    Our Imagination loves to be filled with an Object, or to grasp at any thing that is too big for its Capacity. We are flung into a pleasing Astonishment at such unbounded Views, and feel a delightful Stillness and Amazement in the Soul at the Apprehension of them. The Mind of Man naturally hates every thing that looks like a Restraint upon it, and is apt to fancy it self under a sort of Confinement, when the Sight is pent up in a narrow Compass, and shortned on every side by the Neighbourhood of Walls or Mountains.… [W]ide and undetermined Prospects are as pleasing to the Fancy, as the Speculations of Eternity or Infinitude are to the Understanding. [2]

  3. Katharsis has been interpreted to mean (1) a purging of emotion,[3] (2) a moral purification[4] and (3) an intellectual clarification.[5] In Aristotle's works, how is the notion of katharsis best understood?

  4. According to Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics the good is that for which all things aim; something is good if it performs its proper function. Moreover, different goods correspond to different arts and sciences. On this view, discuss what would be the good for the arts? What would be the specific excellence or areté of art?

  5. Contrast Aristotle's mimetic theory with Plato's theory of forms— with special attention to the idea that art is the idealization of nature and the realization of the abstract universal from individual representation.

  6. How do you think Aristotle would respond to the nineteenth century æsthetician Eugene Véon's objection to the imitation theory of art:

    If an artist were really able to reduce himself to the condition of a copying machine; if he could so far efface and suppress himself as to confine his work to the servile reproduction of all the features and details of an object or event passing before his eyes: the only value his work would possess would be that of a more or less exact proès verbal, and it would perforce remain inferior to reality. Where is the artist who would attempt to depict sunlight without taking refuge in some legerdemain, calling to his aid devices which the true sun would despise?[6]

    Is it possible there is more that one type of imitation?



Poetics. VII.


Joseph Addison, The Spectator. London: George Routledge and Sons, Ltd. 1891. Letter 413.


Jacob Bernays. Articles On Aristotle 4: Psychology and Æsthetics. Edited by J. Barnes et. al. London: Duckworth. 1979. 154-165.


G. E. Lessing Hamburgische Dramaturgie. 1767. Quoted in Bernays, 155.


Leon Golden. Aristotle on Tragic &Comic Mimesis. Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press. 1992. 1-3.


Eugene Véron, Æsthetics. Translated by W.H. Armstrong. London: Colliers. 1879.