Plato's Republic

by Plato
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What are Plato's grounds for his attack on poetry in Plato's Republic?

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Strictly speaking, Plato is not against all forms of poetry. He has no problem with poetry that encourages people to be pious and patriotic and to act morally. But all other forms of poetry in Plato's ideal city-state are to be rejected, along with any other art that doesn't lead...

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Strictly speaking, Plato is not against all forms of poetry. He has no problem with poetry that encourages people to be pious and patriotic and to act morally. But all other forms of poetry in Plato's ideal city-state are to be rejected, along with any other art that doesn't lead citizens towards leading moral lives.

The main reason for this is to be found in Plato's somewhat restricted view of art. Plato regards art as essentially mimetic. This means that art, whether it's a painting, a poem, or a piece of music, copies nature. As nature, for Plato, is itself a copy of what is ultimately real, art, on his terms, is a copy of a copy, and therefore two removes from reality.

In Plato's philosophy, ultimate reality isn't found in the world around us, the world of objects; it's found in the Forms, which are abstract, unchanging concepts such as Beauty, Truth, and Goodness, of which the natural world is but a shadow. Plato, with his mimetic understanding of art, sees most forms of poetry as dangerous as they lead us further away from the ultimate truth as manifested in the Forms and keep us firmly in the shadows of ignorance.

Furthermore, poems can undermine traditional religion. For instance, Plato accuses Homer of presenting the gods in his epic poems The Odyssey and The Iliad as, among other things, greedy, lustful, and vindictive. Plato regards such a portrayal as dangerous as it undermines respect for the immortals. If there is to be poetry, then it must be tightly controlled by the state to ensure that it strengthens piety and conduces to correct behavior among the general population.

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