Thursday, December 16, 2010

Compare and contrast the views of Plato and Aristotle on the nature and function of poetry.

Aristotle was the disciple of Plato and was influenced by him a great deal. But he differed from his guru in certain respects. Plato condemned poetry, Aristotle appreciated it. Plato set out to reorganize human life; Aristotle to re-organise human knowledge. Plato was a transcendentalist, who arrived at his principles through observation and analysis. Plata was an idealist, too.
He believed that the phenomenal world is but an objectification of the ideal world. The ideal world is real, the phenomenal world is but a shadow of this ideal reality. It is, therefore, fleeting and unreal. Aristotle, on the other hand, believed in the reality of the world of the senses. It is on the basis of the study and observation of particular realities that general principles can be induced. Thus, Aristotle moves from the real, to the ideal, from the particular to the general. His methods are inductive. In this respect, he stands at the opposite pole from Plato.
Plato's language is poetic and charming, Aristotle's is dogmatic and telegraphic. There was more originality in Plato than in Aristotle, but Aristotle is more comprehensive and systematic than Plato. Plato used first the word 'imitation' in connection with poetry. But Plato considered imitation merely as mimicry or a servile copy of nature. Aristotle's interpretation of it has a far-deeper significance. For Aristotle, imitation was a creative force.
Plato likened poetry to painting. Aristotle likened it to music. Plato believed that poetry imitates only the external superficial appearances, and that it is, therefore, twice removed from reality. On the other hand, Aristotle believed that poetry imitates not only the externals, but also internal emotions and experiences. Plato regards that poetry imitates objects as usual, or better or worse than they are. Poetry gives or traces possibility. It explores what ought to be.
Plato was critical of poetry on moral intellectual and emotional grounds. Aristotle has justified all the claims of superiority of poetry on moral, intellectual and emotional grounds. Aristotle used the word 'katharsis' for the first time.
Plato regarded philosophy to be superior to poetry. Aristotle regarded poetry to be superior to philosophy. Plato was of the view that poetry being a false imitation does not have power or scope to deal with high philosophical matters. Aristotle, quite contrary to it, believed that poetry is the more philosophical. It has immense power to deal with even philosophical matters.
Plato regarded emotions as useless for poetry. He advocated their repression. Aristotle, on the other hand, regarded the emotion as of vital importance to poetic creation. For Aristotle, poetry was but a mere emotional outlet.
As mentioned by Lasceles Abercrombie, "Aristotle had been Plato's pupil; but as his mind matured, he became conscious of a deep cleavage between his conviction and his master's, and felt himself called upon to protest against some of the characteristic conclusions and methods of the
Platonic philosophy Aristotle's mind liked to proceed from things to ideas, Plato's from ideas to things. Aristotle had the scientific, Plato the metaphysical mind. Aristotle could never have stood beside Plato as a literary artist. But it was Plato, the philosopher, who condemned poetry; and the mere fact that he did so is typical of the way his philosophy regarded things. Things only important as the representatives of ideas, he was quite prepared to say that a thing which was unnecessary or unworthy as a representative of ideas ought not to exist. Poetry was a thing of this nature; Plato, therefore, proposed that it should be abolished. But it was with a biologist's respect for the existence of thing that Aristotle looked on poetry; for him, ideas were only important as the interpretation of things. It never occurred to Aristotle to ask whether poetry ought or ought not to exist. It does exist, the questions his philosophy asks are : In what manner and to what result does it exist? One might perhaps say, Aristotle would no more think of asking whether poetry ought to exist or not, than whether a species of animals ought to exist or not. At any rate, the conclusion he comes to is the exact opposite of Plato's opinion, it is, that the function of poetry can be supremely beneficient. It may very well be that he started with this opinion, and that to prove it against the great authority of Plato was his chief motive in composing the Poetics."
Yet there are some resemblances between the two. These are on following points :
1.          That poetry is an'imitative art'
2.          That poetry arouses emotions.
3.          That poetry gives pleasure, both as an imitation and as arousing the emotions through imitative means.
4.          That arousing of the emotions by poetry has an effect upon the whole personality of the spectator or reader and on his emotional behaviour in real life.
5.          That both considered poetry from a practical and utilitarian point of view.
Nevertheless, poetry got its right place through the hands of Aristotle, while it could not get the same through the hands of Plato.
A. points of contrast between plato and Aristotle
the guru and guide
the disciple of plato
set out to reorganize
human life
set out disciple of plato
an idealist an trans-
a realist
condemns poetry
appreciates poetry

deductive method
Inductive method
more of a philosopher
more of a scientist
poetic and charming language
dogmatic and telegraphic language
imitation mere mimicry
imitation recreation
likened poetry to painting
likened poetry superior
Philosophy superior to poetry
Poetry superior to philo-sophy
Emotions useless for poetry
Emotions useful and of vital importance for lite-
rary or poetic creation.
metaphysical mind
scientific mind  

B. points of similarity
1.      poetry is an imitative art.       
2.      poetry arouses emotion.
3.      poetry gives pleasure.
4.      poetry influences the spectator or reader.
5.      poetry could be considered from a practical and utilitarian point of view besides the aesthetic view-point.

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