Mimesis in the 'Republic': Dialectic and Poetics

By Raphael Foshay.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Plato's exclusion of the poets from the ideal republic is best understood as a polemical strategy arising from the primary aims of the 'Republic': the promotion of philosophy,
and of dialectic in particular, as the primary discourse of truth. The goal of the philosophical life, and of training as a Guardian, configured in the allegory of the cave, is illumination by the ideal forms and ultimately by the Form of the Good. Poetry, in its nourishing of the emotions, is found in the Dialogue to obscure the dispassionate exercise of dialectical training, which is the necessary if not the sufficient condition for such illumination. Poetry is the chief opposition to be overcome in the Republic because poetry is the reigning vehicle in Greek culture of paideia, the training and education of the young toward full citizenship. Since the central argumentation of the
'Republic' is directed toward the formation of future Guardians, and that training must take place along the lines of a method leading the mind above the changeable particular toward the unchanging forms, then poetry as a discourse nourishing the particularity of emotions is the most powerful and seductive rival to philosophy, and so must be excluded from the ideal republic. This is an understandable polemical goal of the 'Republic'. However, in his discussion of the training of Guardians, Plato leaves open the possibility that students of true philosophy may on occasion be drawn from other professions. They must of course abandon those professions in single-minded pursuit of philosophy and potential Guardianship. But, Socrates acknowledges that Guardians in retirement will perform useful service. I argue in this paper that there is no logical reason why a former poet-turned-philosopher, armed with dialectic and illuminated by the forms, might not write a philosophically-informed poetry that is mimetic of the forms rather than of the emotions. Such an argument is assumed in a weaker form by Aristotle in the 'Poetics' and in a strong, fully Platonic form by Plotinus.

Keywords: Plato, Mimesis, Dialectic, Poetics, The 'Republic'

The International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 5, Issue 2, pp.97-108. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 565.950KB).

Dr. Raphael Foshay

Associate Professor, MA Program in Integrated Studies, Athabasca University, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

I am a literary theorist working primarily on deconstruction and its philosophical cognates. I have a particular interest in the ethos of mimesis as a construct in literary theory, both in classical, Romantic, and modernist aesthetics.

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