What does imitation (mimesis) involve for Plato and Aristotle? Explain its different features.
Mimesis, the ‘imitative representation of the real world in art and literature’ , is a form that was particularly evident within the governance of art in Ancient Greece. Although its exact interpretation does vary, it is most commonly used to describe artistic creation as a whole. The value and need for mimesis has been argued by a number of scholars including Sigmund Freud, Philip Sydney and Adam Smith, but this essay will focus on the arguments outlined by Plato in The Republic and Aristotle in Poetics, attempting to demonstrate the different features of imitation (mimesis) and what it involves for them both. In Plato’s The Republic, he discusses what imitation (mimesis) signifies to him and why he believed it was not worthy of the credit or appreciation it was so often given. In Aristotle’s Poetics on the other hand, he highlights the importance of imitation not just in art, but also in everyday life and why imitation within tragedy is necessary for human development.
For Plato, there are three key objections to imitation (mimesis) which are demonstrated in books II and III, and then again in book X of The Republic. Plato believes that all art is imitative of life and in book II, he begins to explain what he considers to be the ideal way for a human to live, which involves living a life of reason and righteousness with guardians to protect us. These guardians are required to be good, honest and fair and therefore all children should be educated and trained with these qualities, to prepare them as our future guardians. Plato’s first objection to imitation (mimesis) is from the point of view of Theology and Education. He sugges...
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...milarly, Plato says that Poetry has the same effect on us when it refers to sex and violence, arousing an array of ‘desires and feelings of pleasure and pain… it waters them when they ought to be left to whither, and makes them control us when we ought, in the interests of our own greater welfare and happiness, to control them.’ What this indicates from a rational perspective is that imitation brings undesirable emotions to our surface, allowing it to cloud our judgement, weaken our psychological stability and change our outlook on life itself. This could therefore have a drastic effect, according to Plato, on the present and future guardians who are required by the rest of us to remain emotionally stable and in full control of their own irrational desires and fears.
Plato, The Republic, 2nd ed. Translated by D. Lee (London: Penguin Group, 1987)