Essay One 1800 words – 10 sources in text


What artwork???

The historical period spanning 480 to 323 BCE saw the rise and domination of the Greek
collection of city-states, in particular the polis of Athens, in the areas of politics,
economics and cultural activity and is referred to by modern historians as the Classical
age of Greek society (Kleiner 2010, 118). The ultimate Greek victory over the Persian
armies in 479 BCE was both cause and effect for the growth of wealth and power within
the Grecian make-up of polis and saw great political and economic expansion occur.
Concurrently, it was a transitional period in Greek culture from total oral and aural
dependence for the presentation of ideas, to a literate culture using written texts for the
recording of information, and new attitudes and positions were taken up, such as,
“rationalism, iconoclasm, and the criticism, reinterpretation or rejection of traditional
practices, norms and values.” (Press 2010, 25). This influence of the humanistic
worldview of the Ancient Greeks, along with the inception of democracy and
contributions in the fields of art and architecture, literature, philosophy, and the sciences,
would reverberate through the ages to infiltrate directly through, in influencing
contemporary Western modes of thought and culture.

Of the Greek philosophers, the Athenian citizen Plato (429–347 B.C.E.) can, on some
accounts, be considered the “first great figure in the Western aesthetic tradition”
(Rockmore 2013, 2), in that subsequent great thinkers throughout the ages have in some
way been influenced by Plato and the provocations to thought that he has provided.
Furthermore, it was Plato’s grappling with what the subject of philosophy itself should
entail, namely “rigorous and systematic examination of ethical, political, metaphysical,
and epistemological issues, armed with a distinctive method” (Kraut 2013, para. 1), that
places Plato at such a foundational position in the Western history of philosophy. The
doctrine considered centrally associated with Plato’s writings is that of the theory of

With the observed world being susceptible to constant change it cannot be a reliable
source of knowledge that is eternal or unchanging. Plato argued that because the material
world that appears to our senses can be unreliable, defective, and error prone, it is not an
easy source of truth. Yet, behind the world of appearances is another realm that it
populated by postulated objects that are the unchanging and eternal Forms. The Forms
are also, “in some sense paradigmatic for the structure and character of the world
presented to our senses.” (Kraut 2013, para. 2). As an example, it is not possible to draw a
real circle – any attempt would produce an imperfect physical approximation of the
mathematically ideal ‘real circle’, a facsimile of the perfect Form. According to Plato,
visible physical objects and events are analogous to being only shadows in comparison
with the higher reality of the world of the Forms Also, the Forms are not limited to
physical objects, but encompass any conceivable thing or property. Abstract objects such
as “goodness, beauty, equality, bigness, likeness, unity, being, sameness, difference,
change, and changlessness” (Kraut 2013, para.2), are Forms situated in the perfect realm
from which the many instances of the beautiful, equal, good, etc. things receive their
corresponding characteristics. This fundamental distinction made by Plato informs such
ideas as the recognition of the defectiveness of the corporeal, and the division of the soul
from the body, as the body “is a dark cavern that imprisons the soul, [and] the sight of the
sensed must be overcome by intellectual sight.” (Eco 2010, 50). For Plato, it was
philosophers who were best positioned, by virtue of greater intellectual insight, to be able
to distinguish the one thing that Beauty is, from the many things called beautiful.

Bearing in mind the autonomous existence of Forms that Plato puts forward, it is apt here
to turn to another concept, and that is one of a mimetic art. For if there is one true source
of Beauty, surely any artistic attempt to apprehend the Form will result in a false copy of
the original thing? Plato’s concern is of the effect on the psyche, when he writes in the
Republic X of imitative arts in correlation to a type of magic – “Thus every sort of
confusion is revealed within us; and this is the weakness of the human mind on which the
art of painting in light and shadow, the art of conjuring, and many other ingenious devices
impose.” (Plato cited in Adams 1992, 35). And further, in the same dialogue – “The
imitative art is an inferior who from intercourse with an inferior has inferior offspring.”
(Adams 1992, 35). Plato illustrates the distance from the true Form that an artistic
imitation offers by saying that a physical object, such as a bed, will imitate the singular
Form of a bed, whereas an illustration, for instance, a painted picture of a bed, imitates
the object of the bed from a certain angle and “is thus at two moves from reality.”
(Janaway 2005, 5). The disparaging nature of Plato’s description of imitation in the arts
denotes a position that the dealing in appearances is, potentially, a morally harmful
practice, in that “works of art are in his view only a very inferior means of bringing us into
contact with the true object of knowledge, viz. the Forms.” (Cothey 1990, 31). What is at
stake here is the undermining, by disadvantage of false or misleading knowledge, of the
conception of the ideally just individual and, in turn, the ideal city-state.

So, in laying out Plato’s philosophy of the Forms and the mimetic nature of the arts, how
are these aspects intertwined with Plato’s view on beauty? How can we reconcile beauty
with Plato’s assertion of art as a mimetic activity that is detrimental to the citizen in the
pursuit of knowledge, art as merely art? Plato devotes inquiry into both art and beauty
but seems to evaluate them oppositely, namely art as something dangerous with beauty
being close to a greatest good (Pappas 2014, para. 1). In Plato’s metaphysics, beauty holds
a unique place as “something almost both visible and intelligible.” (Pappas 2014, para.
12). Reflected in the Hippias Major are Plato’s views on beauty, namely that beauty is one
of the Forms and operates as other Forms operate. However, beauty bears a close
relationship with, although it is never subsumed by, the good and so it is “a Form of some
status above that of other Forms” (Pappas 2014, para. 12), in essence, a paradigmatic
Form. The pedagogical effects of beauty are reason for Plato to testify to beauty’s good
consequences and to welcome attention to them in that considering the Form of beauty
“promises more reflection than any other property of things” (Pappas 2005, 230), and in
addition that, “beauty alone is both a Form and a sensory experience.” (Pappas 2014,
para. 21). , Apprehending a specific notion intrinsic property

A note should also be made about the understanding of the term ‘Beauty’ as related in
Plato’s time, as Eco (2010, 39) warns: “this early point of view cannot be fully understood
if we look at Beauty through modern eyes.” The Greek adjective kalon approximates to
the English term ‘beautiful’ but could also refer at times to something ‘noble’, ‘admirable’
or ‘fine’ or as “a special complement to goodness” (Pappas 2014, para. 7), terms that
denote an ethical context, not just an aesthetic one. The understanding of Beauty and the
arts was not as autonomous entities, as Eco (2010, 41) writes: “it was a Beauty bound up
with the various arts that conveyed it and devoid of any unitary statute.” Harmony,
measure, rhythm and symmetry, the interplay between the body and the soul, and
between the information received by the senses and the understanding provided by the
intellect, were important to the Greek understanding of beauty. (Eco 2010, 41).
Furthermore, Hyland (2008, 15) states that for modernity, the distinguishing of aesthetics
as a separate discipline to others, places the issue of beauty firmly in the sights of art, “but
for the Greeks beauty begins, as it were, with the beauty of human bodies, and only from
there radiates into art and elsewhere.” (Hyland 2008, 15). The example of beauty
radiating into art for the ancient Greeks is most keenly displayed through sculpture of the
human form. For instance, Polykleitos’ Doryphorus (fig. 1) displays finely tuned harmonic
proportions. It is the synthesis of an ideal body from vital, living bodies, a “vehicle for
expression of a psychophysical Beauty that harmonized body and soul, in other words,
the Beauty of forms and the goodness of the soul.”(Eco 2010, 45).

It remains to

The fundamental datum in understanding Platonic beauty is that Plato sees no opposition
between the pleasures that beauty brings and the goals of philosophy

Companion to art theory – page 26 – art and beauty

Social issues – i.e Beauty of the ideal state see Rockmore page 6 of PDF.



Eco, Umberto. 2010. On Beauty. London: MacLehose Press.
Kleiner 2009
Rockmore 2013
Kraut, Richard, "Plato", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2013 Edition),
Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL =
Press 2010 Plato a guide for the perplexed
Adams, Hazard. 2010. Critical Theory Since Plato: Revised Edition. Orlando: Harcourt Brace
Cothey, A.L. 1990. The Nature of Art.
Janaway in Routledge Companion to Aesthetics. 2005. Gaut, Berys and Lopes McIver,
Dominic. eds. London: Routledge.
Pappas, Nickolas, "Plato's Aesthetics", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer
2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), forthcoming URL =
Pappas, Nickolas. 2005.
Hyland, Drew A. 2008. Plato and the Question of Beauty. Bloomington: Indiana University

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