Plato's Republic by Plato

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Book 10 Summary and Analysis

1. Critique of Art (595–605b)

Socrates reemphasizes the importance of the limits placed on poetry in the city in speech. Artists’ products are only imitations of reality, twice removed from the true characteristic of the world of forms. Artists’ (specifically poets’) claims to have broad knowledge about mankind are false. Socrates supports his claim by showing that nothing of value has come from Homer’s writings and that poets have not been men of action. Poets cannot be true educators because they do not know what is good.

Since artists neither use nor create the objects they depict, their representations lack the benefit of expert knowledge. For this reason, concludes Socrates, artists have no true standards to guide what they produce. This leads them to choose as their standard public opinion, a critique that above all applies to the tragic poets. Furthermore, because representing the actions of the reasoning element of the brain is difficult, as well as boring to the public, dramatic poets focus on representing the lower elements. This encourages these bad elements in the individual as well as the state. It is therefore right to exclude poetry from the good state.

According to Desmond Lee, this section has been inserted into the Republic in order to strengthen its earlier critique of poetry “against anticipated or actual criticism” (Lee, 1974:421). This time Plato’s argument is strengthened by its reference to the theory of forms, as expressed in the simile of the divided line. Plato’s description of artistic works as representations of physical objects places them, and their creators, furthest from the perfect world of forms. Since they look neither to knowledge (of the forms) or to expertise (valid in the material world), artists and their creations can only be full of ignorance (the characteristic mentality of the lowest end of the divided line).

Plato’s parting shot is to compare the artists to Sophists. Using language similar to the metaphor of the animal trainer, Plato says artists can’t tell good from bad and use popularity as their only standard of merit. Modern critics have instead found Greek dramatists to have produced profound critiques of the polis. Plato’s critique might as well be aimed at the variety of dramatists’ visions, which would be very subversive in the context of the enforced unity of the city in speech.

2. Exclusion of Poetry from the Ideal City (605c–608b)

Poetry has a tremendous power to corrupt because it can make a man enjoy behavior that he would normally be ashamed of. By allowing oneself to be moved by drama, one weakens one’s own control over the low and unseemly emotions, such as sadness, gaiety, lust, and anger. For this reason, one should pity those who call Homer the educator of Greece, remembering that if the state does not exclude most poetry, “pleasure and pain will jointly be kings in your city instead of law” (607a). The only poetry that should be allowed is hymns to the gods and songs in praise of good men. One must constantly remind oneself that most poetry is far from Truth and guard that it not insinuate itself into one’s soul.

Plato’s discussion of Homer in this section reinforces the modern readers’ sense of the role he had in Greek society. In the previous section, Plato discounted the technical knowledge for which Homer received credit. Now he focuses on the misguided moral lessons the Iliad contains, addressing himself to the just man instead of the needs of the just city. His message is that the well-harmonized man must reject the many bad lessons taught by Homer and other writers, instead keeping his focus on self-control and, of course, philosophy.

3. The Immortality of the Soul (608c–612a)

Socrates begins a description of the rewards of being good. He first asserts that the soul is immortal. Everything has a peculiar evil that causes it to degenerate. The soul must therefore be immortal because none of the...

(The entire section is 1,736 words.)