Mimesis, Art, and the Metaphysics of Appearances in Republic X
Fiona Leigh (University College London)

May 26, 2022, 4:15pm - 6:15pm
Philosophy Discipline, University of Melbourne

Babel G03 (Lower Theatre)
Babel Building (139)
Melbourne 3010


University of Melbourne

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Abstract: Plato famously – or infamously – has Socrates banish the dramatic and comedic poets from the ideal city, Kallipolis, in book X of the Republic. He does so on the basis of two arguments, one metaphysical, which purports to give an analysis of appearances and of mimesis (or imitation), and the other psychological, which argues that poetry is harmful for the tripartite human soul. But how exactly the analysis of appearances and mimesis is to be understood, and how it connects to the psychological argument has long been an interpretive puzzle. Traditional readings understand appearances as metaphysically inferior in comparison to reality, for Plato, which gives rise to their epistemologically suspect nature (as false or deceptive), which, in turn is harmful in light of Plato’s tripartite psychology. Against the tradition, I will argue that a proper understanding of the metaphysics of appearances is explanatory of the expertise of mimesis, and does not entail that the products of mimesis, including poetry, are necessarily false or deceptive. On the reading I will propose, Plato understands the appearances of things to depend on the particular conditions of view of the experiencing subject, such that if the particular conditions of view obtain, the experience of the object – whether an object of perception or an object depicted as a result of mimetic production – will necessarily appear a particular way to the viewer. Applied to the case of poetry, assuming tripartition, the analysis understands poetry to require the audience to adopt, however temporarily, the condition of a soul not ruled by reason in order to experience the pleasures poetry offers, which, after repetition over time, habituates the soul into a morally harmful constitution.  

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