It is important to start with Plato to answer this question. By far Plato's negative view of imitation (mimesis) is more common than Aristotle's view. Plato believed that imitation was bad, because it led people away from the ultimate reality of things. This is why he banished poets from his ideal republic. However, when we come to Aristotle, he had a favorable view of imitation.
Here are some points that Aristotle makes:
- Imitation is a natural part of life. For example, children learn to become good citizens, partially through imitation.
- In connection to the first point, imitation could be a good form of education. You can always imitate something good and noble.
- Like Plato, Aristotle believed that poetry is mimetic. However, this imitation in literature can be good. For example, Aristotle believed that a good tragedy allowed the audience to follow the drama and even feel danger, but in the end this produced something called, "katharsis." This katharsis (purification) led the community to feel resolution.
- In light of the last point, imitation in literature could play an important part in community building.