What are Aristotle's views on 'mimesis' in the Poetics?

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For Aristotle in the Poetics , mimesis, or imitation, springs from a basic human delight in mimicry. Aristotle's naturalistic approach to mimesis put him at odds with his teacher Plato, who saw mimesis in metaphysical terms as an imitation of the truth, rather than the truth itself. Plato argued that...

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For Aristotle in the Poetics, mimesis, or imitation, springs from a basic human delight in mimicry. Aristotle's naturalistic approach to mimesis put him at odds with his teacher Plato, who saw mimesis in metaphysical terms as an imitation of the truth, rather than the truth itself. Plato argued that the natural world around us is only a partial copy of what is ultimately real, and thus an imitation of that world is nothing more than a copy of a copy, and therefore even further removed from the truth.

Aristotle, however, saw ultimate reality not in Plato's abstract Forms—timeless ideas such as Truth, Beauty, and Goodness—but in the world around us. And it is that world which is represented in acts of mimesis, whether in poetry, painting, or drama. As acts of mimesis take place in the exact same world as the things they represent, there is no sense in which mimesis represents an attack on the truth. They are all part of the same world, hence all part of the same truth.

Whether or not one finds Aristotle's naturalistic approach to mimesis especially plausible, there can be little doubt that it doesn't account for non-representational forms of art such as Romantic poetry or abstract painting. This gaping hole at the heart of Aristotle's theory would, at the very least, appear to negate its universality.

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Aristotle's main treatment of "mimesis" occurs in his Poetics. The term mimesis is used in Greek to mean "imitation". Aristotle's teacher, Plato, wrote extensively about painting and poetry, describing them both as mimetic arts, and embedding that description in an ontology in which the sensibilia imitated the forms. Because, therefore, artistic works were mere imitations of imitation, Plato was generally opposed to the mimetic arts, especially drama.

Aristotle, on the other hand, while agreeing that poetry was fundamentally imitative, saw imitation as a morally neutral and natural human activity. He thought that by experiencing poetry, people could improve their moral character and examine, in hypothetical form, ethical issues.

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