February 17, 2005

Plato vs. Aristotle - Who Would Win?

After spending some time studying Plato and his aversion to art and poetry, I was looking forward to reading some of Aristotle's Poetics. Knowing how diametrically opposed Aristotle and Plato's beliefs were, I expected to see Aristotle use this text to disagree with Plato's claim that poetry is worthless because it is mere imitation. Instead, he agrees that poetry is mimetic, or imitative, but then explains why its imitation of life should be valued rather than discounted. He states in Part IV that:

"The instinct of imitation is implanted in man from childhood, one difference between him and other animals being that he is the most imitative of living creatures, and through imitation learns his earliest lesson."

Since imitation is a vital part of human nature, Aristotle believes that poetry is extremely worthwhile. He addresses the common criticism that the events depicted in poetry are impossible by stating that poets aim for this element of impossibility in order to give the audience/reader a more astonishing tale. He says that some poets find the need to describe people and events as they ought to be rather than the strict reality of how they are. While I believe that Plato could easily argue against this point, I agree with Aristotle in that by showing people how they should behave, by their nature they will behave as such. Therefore, by portraying something other than reality, and using Poetry's infatuation with imitation, the art of poetry can be both beneficial and pleasing to the State (which is the center of Plato's universe)

In addition to these few arguments for the worth of poetry, Aristotle uses the Poetics to explain how to write poetry and why tragedy is the highest form of poetry. His outline for the perfect tragedy was very familiar to me since it is still regarded as one of the best assessments of tragic poetry and drama. You can see his influence not only in Classical Tragedies such as Oedipus Rex, but in Shakespearean Tragedies and Contemporary Tragedies.

Although I was disappointed that Aristotle didn't take out Plato "Celebrity Deathmatch" style, as a student of literature and drama I felt that this was an extremely important text to read and am slightly ashamed that it took me four years of college to finally read it.

Posted by JohannaDreyfuss at February 17, 2005 2:19 PM | TrackBack

The depth of you analysis is staggering. Never mind that Plato was Aristotle's teacher for 20 odd years, or that every one of Plato's dialogues is in fact a dramatic, sorry, 'mimetic' (such a large vocab) representation of life, you can't even make the simplest observation that not once in any of his dialogues did you read the actual words of Plato, and yet you "know" Plato's beliefs and claims about poetry and mimesis. I don't discover only the crudest, and most superficial knowledge of Plato in your words and a still lesser knowledge of Aristotle.

Posted by: PT Anderson at December 6, 2007 6:47 PM

aristotle would kick ass all the way

Posted by: michael christiano at December 7, 2007 1:05 PM

why is my name up there jeez. he was not a teacher you jerk

Posted by: michael #2 at December 7, 2007 1:06 PM
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