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Plato, truth, and art.

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by ascanius, Jun 18, 2020.

  1. ascanius

    ascanius Inkling

    So I just finished Plato's republic and in book 10 he brings up an interesting point about art. A lot of paraphrasing to follow.

    His basic premise is this. Art is three orders removed from the truth. The example he used was a table. First there is the truth of what a table is, it's essence if you will, the universal truth of what a table is. 2nd there is the table created by the craftsman, it is a table but not the truth of a table. Lastly there is the painting of the table Wich is simply a representation of a table, it's not a table but a painting first and table second. So it's three orders removed from the truth.

    He goes on to talk about the poets how they make us feel emotions that don't exist. We indulge in these emotions filling up the vessel to where we respond with these emotions in life. It gives us a false sense of knowing or understanding.
    I think the best way to look at it is war. We write about war, most of us without any actual experience, thinking we understand and at the same time impart understanding, and the emotions to the audience. However the truth is we will never understand until we experience it. So it is three orders removed from the truth of war, it's a painting of a war, it's not the actual war, nor is it the truth of war. It feeds the emotions without truth.

    I paraphrased a lot, I recommend reading the book for a better understanding, or spark notes. I can't argue with Socrates premise, what he says it true.

    I do think there is value in art, poetry, and fiction, I can't think of a counter argument though.

    I'm really curious to know what you think. Do you think your writing imparts truth? Socrates says he would change his opinion if someone can make the argument.
  2. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Maester

    This assumes there is an 'essence' of a table. I say our idea of a table is, rather, an extrapolation from the physical tables we have seen and, yes, even pictures of tables. There is no ideal table, only physical existence and its perception by our minds. And of course this has been argued back and forth by Platonists and Aristotelians and all the philosophers since.
  3. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    Writing doesn't impart anything, imo. I write and, having written, move on. (you can quote me <g>)

    That is to say, once I have published a story, it's its own entity, which then gets encountered by readers. In this respect, I'm no different from the artisan who made the table. How the readers perceive my story is their own experience. This is why readers so often find meaning or interpretations never intended by the author. Even in cases where the author is moralizing or preaching, there's no predictable way to say how it's received or even to know how it's received.

    So, for a work of art like a story, I diverge strongly from the Platonic argument. It's not like there's an ideal form of Goblins at the Gates of which my printed story is a secondary reflection. There's no truth there to be portrayed correctly or incorrectly. There's just the story. White clouds, blue mountains.
  4. nck

    nck Scribe

    A couple things worth keeping in mind about this argument: (1) Socrates' argument doesn't actually concern art in general, it concerns "imitative poetry," and there's a lot of debate in the Plato literature about what, ultimately, that covers. It arguably doesn't even apply to visual art, since he just uses the whole painting thing as an analogy for poetry.

    2) The argument arguably hinges on endorsing the "theory of forms," which most of us probably don't (and which it's not even clear *Plato* does, if you read the corpus as a whole, and keep in mind that we never actually get any arguments from Plato himself, only characters).

    3) Many scholars don't think Plato himself can be endorsing this argument, or at least not straightforwardly since it arguably condemns the Platonic dialogue as an imitative form which cannot communicate truth.

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