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Plato Criticizes Poetry And The Fine Arts

In the last book, Book X, Plato criticizes poetry and the fine arts. Plato feels that art is merely the imitation of the imitation of reality, and that poetry corrupts the soul. Socrates says that artists merely create things. As an example, if a painter draws a couch on his canvas, he is creating a couch. But the couch he creates is not the real couch, it is nothing but a copy of an ordinary, physical couch which was created by a craftsman.

But the ordinary, physical couch is nothing more than an imperfect copy, or image of the Form of Couch. So, the couch on the canvas is nothing but a copy of a copy of the real couch and is therefore three times removed from reality. Socrates then goes on to explain that an artist’s knowledge is also third-rate. If an artist is painting a picture of a table, for example, he is copying a table that has been manufactured by a furniture-maker, and this furniture-maker has more knowledge of the table than the painter does.

But there is someone who has ever more knowledge about the table, the person who wants to have the table made. He is the one who gives the furniture-maker instructions to follow when making the table, according to its purpose for the buyer. So, the buyer of the table knows more about the table than the furniture-maker, and the furniture-maker knows more about the table than the painter. Socrates believes that only philosophers have the first-hand knowledge of things, since they believe in The Forms. Socrates also denounces Homer.

Socrates feels that in his writing, Homer has pretended to be people he is not, such as a politician, general, businessman, teacher, and philosopher. Socrates feels this is wrong because Homer is claiming to be able to perform these functions that he has written about, but never really performed himself. He feels that Homer is abandoning reality. Plato feels that poetry has no place in his Ideal State, and should be banished until it can show itself to be a friend of philosophy. In conclusion, The Republic was Plato’s ways of expressing his Theory of Forms.

The Forms played an important part in Plato’s Ideal State. However, Materialism does not believe in Plato’s Theory of Forms. A Materialist would disagree with many of the things that Plato talked of in The Republic. The main idea behind Plato’ Theory of Forms is that the Forms are not physical objects, but instead are only known through the mind (reason). The Forms are not known through the senses. They exist in a realm beyond physical reality. As in the example with beauty, it is ultimately an idea, not an object.

One must understand what true beauty is before they can judge a particular object to be beautiful or not. The Forms are different from physical objects in that they are eternal and universal. Even the atoms that Materialists believe make up objects are not eternal. Also, if the ideal objects are the objects of knowledge and intellect, then what do Materialists believe knowledge is based on? Obviously it would be something based on the physical world. According to philosophers, knowledge of The Forms is required to have true knowledge.

Then philosophers must feel that Materialists do not have true knowledge. Materialists believe that reality only consists of matter, however, philosophers believe that these physical objects are only real in a secondary sense, and that these objects are only imperfect copies of The Forms. Materialists also do not believe in spirits, souls, and gods and therefore would not understand Plato’s belief that life was to involve a movement upward toward the Forms, as this was a movement of the Soul.

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