Friday, 16 May 2014

How Plato justified to banish poets from his Ideal State?

Plato is a renowned philosopher and stands alone as the fountain of the tradition among Greek Idealists. Three of Plato’s writings form the focus in understanding his theory of idealism in relation to art: Ion, Phaedrus, and The Republic. In The Republic, Plato gave the theory of Ideal State which is further supported by other ideas and theories.
Plato also talked about Poets and wanted to banish them from his Ideal State. To supplement his ambition of banishing Poets he has defined different grounds long with the Theory of Imitation.
Plato’s theory of imitation forms the basis for the rest of his philosophy. This theory deals with metaphysical questions, concerned with nature of existence, truth and knowledge. Plato by presenting his theory has refuted the pre-Socratic concepts and has given novel explanation of all these ideas. To understand the theory of Imitation, it is necessary to read and understand the dialogues between Socrates and Glucon written by Plato in The Republic. The dialogues deal with the formation of an ideal state where Plato banishes the poets. Everything in the state is modeled on the basis of philosophic ideas and judged by the closeness to “real” or “true” (archetypal). As in The Republic, the hierarchy of professionals is based upon their relative proximity to reality. The complexity of this theory lies in the concept of reality. According to Plato, imitation is a hurdle which could be crossed to attain the ideals of knowledge, government or virtue.
“The Republic” begins with Socrates delightful explanation on the “rejection of imitative poetry” from The Republic. A discussion on the nature of imitation follows course considering its various demerits.
The concept of creation is associated with God or the maker since pre-Socratic times, but the novelty in Plato’s theory is that he declares that God has created ideas (also called forms) which are not material. These forms or ideas present the real difficulty in understanding Plato’s theory because the nature of these ideas could only be imagined or perceived rather than being experienced by our human senses. Plato is discrediting human senses and says about ideas and essences.
“…real existence is colorless, formless and intangible, visible only to the intelligence”
According to Plato, all ideas are made by God:
“…by the natural process of creation, He is the author of those and of all other things”
The original Ideas lie with the God. He is the creator. And the relation of all these ideas to the real object is the first step of imitation. Thus everything found in this world is an imitation of a real world. The second level of imitation (called to be thrice removed from reality) is seen in the work of the imitative tribe. Plato considers all poets and painters to be a part of this imitative tribe, as they only copy the visible and tangible objects which are themselves mere imitations of the archetypes (the original idea). So, the work of poets and painters etc is in fact imitation of an imitation. Plato considers that an idea of the bed was crated by God which can not be duplicated.
God, whether from choice or from necessity, made one bed
 in nature and one only; two or more such ideal beds
 neither ever have been nor will be made by God”
Now the answering the question “why poets should be banished from The Republic?” is much easier because Plato has placed them (the poets) in the category of those who occupy lowest level of knowledge. Plot has elaborated the backgrounds for banishing poets from The Republic.
The most important reason for banishing poets is Morality. Plato says poets are imitators. They add nothing to reality. A preacher (or a Priest) conveys God’s idea directly. They convey God’s orders in form of sermons and hymns. They imitate the real idea and just one step removed from reality. But the poets, even if they write about God, still they are copying. Plato says poetry is something immoral because the poets write about gods and goddesses and show their negative capabilities. Gods and goddesses are shown angry and furious and fighting with one another.  Plato says God should be given positive qualities instead of negative ones. They should be praised. Their kind and soft eye should be highlighted. And secondly, the poetry makes the readers emotional which results in their weak and coward morals. Cowardice is a sin and it leads to immorality. An immoral person can do nothing for the sake of his nation and country. Plato approves
Only those poems which are written in favor and in praise of God and that we should not give way to impatience.
Emotional grounds are also very important. Poetry has a spiritual clash; it weakens our idea, logic and reason.
 “And the better part of the soul is likely to be that which trusts to measure and calculation?
Mind is superior part of the soul whereas body is the baser-part and inferior to mind. Poetry does not help us to see beyond reality. The poetry removes the self-restraints and creates aesthetic delights and bodily desires. It waters emotions. As Plato says in The Republic;
awakens … and nourishes and strengthens the feelings and impair the reasons.
The reason represents the better part of the soul while feelings are considered to be the more evil part of a soul. Plato says Poetry should provoke reason and logic. There should be link between ourselves and ideas.

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The third ground is of utility. Poets contribute nothing to society. They lack the courage and dignity to participate in wars even. They can not train those who want to participate in war. Singers, musicians and poets can not defend the territories. They give no benefit to the society. They cannot deliver knowledge to nation as they themselves do not know. Their work distorts and corrupts immature minds. The children will never understand what they are conveying. Plato says,
And the same object appears straight when looked at out of the water, and crooked when in the water; and the concave becomes convex, owing to the illusion about colors to which the sight is liable…
If a rod is dipped in a glass of water, its surface seems twisted. The phenomenon can be defined with the help of scientific study. But if a man who has no knowledge can be deceived by Art. Art does not add utility. Moreover it distorts the immature minds. Plato promotes mathematics, logic and sciences.
            At the end comes intellectual ground for banishing Poets from The Republic. Plato says Art should not be appreciated as it has nothing logical and reasonable. It has deception and illusion. Poets were of great significance. They used to write poems in praise of Kings and Queens. Plato himself was a great admirer of Homer but he criticized Homer and his poetic works. The time, when Plato was writing The Republic there was a great collapse. Education system was very poor. Poetry seems an anecdote against education and resulted in demoralized children. Poetry is based on human passion and feelings but people believe that poet is divinely inspired and during the process of writing his mind is taken by divine spirits. The poet becomes mentally absent and the thing he writes is a god message. Plato agrees this believe and argues that, a man (the poet) who is not fully aware and unconscious is not worthy to be trusted. He is a mad man and not in senses. Let him write what he wants to. It is not worthy to agree and follow him because he gives no logic and no reason. He may be left alone to enjoy divine inspiration. Plot supports those writers who highlight patriotism and praise God.
            Plato seems very successful in proving the reasons why he has banished the poets from The Republic. He talked about all the aspects of society and the need of a citizen. He knows the importance and utility of a single person. He does not need idle or emotional people who contribute nothing towards society.

  • Book X from The Republic by Plato.
  • Lecture notes 
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