Philosophy of the Arts


What Plato is up against

What Plato is up against in his objection to art, becomes clear in Politiea, Book X, 599a: he objects here to people who take a representation for what it represents.
[We can still connect with this objection as a warning at being too naive about news or documentary footage.]

– Plato. 1988. Republic 10. Edited by Stephen Halliwell. Translated by
Stephen Halliwell. Warminster, Wiltshire, England: Aris & Phillips Ltd.
Or check the Jowett translation, online.

There is, also, something paradoxical about Plato’s thinking. For one, his cave myth can be read as a Foucauldian tale showing how difficult it is when you have grown up bereaved of the right sorts of influences, to find a language to express your innermost thoughts. [This theme recurs, too, in Hume’s parable of Sancho Panza’s kinsmen]. Foucault put this struggle of the underprivileged for a language of their own centre stage. But Plato’s cave men aren’t socially deprived, but epistemologically.

Hence, on the other hand, Plato’s succumbing to idealism. Hence, and here is the paradox, the pretence to return into the cave and show the others how things really stand. [this theme certainly does not recur in Hume—or Foucault for that matter.]

This is a philosophical paradox, though, and a nice way to bring it out is by looking at contemporary musical platonism. (Kivy, Dodd).
What good is it, to argue that beautiful melodies, etc. are found, not created, and that they have an eternal existence (Dodd)? Surely that would mean that ugly melodies too, are already there, in music heaven, or whatever one prefers to call it, and everything in between the good and the ugly ones. Composers who look to heaven to find the ‘right’ (?) melodies would still do nothing different from writing a composition. Because it is thoroughly unclear what the looking should be conceived of when not as … composing.
One who denies that this is the case should provide a criterion to establish whether or not some piece already exists. Surely, referring to Platonic essences will be of little help. It simply begs the question.

– Dodd, Julian. 2000. “Musical Works as Eternal Types.” The British Journal of Aesthetics 40:424-40.
– Hume, David. 1985. “Of the Standard of Taste.” In Essays Moral Political and Literary, 226-250. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund. online.
– Kivy, Peter. 2004. “Platonism in Music: A Kind of Defense.” In Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art. The Analytic Tradition, edited by Peter Lamarque
and Stein Haugom Olsen, 92-102. Oxford, etc.: Blackwell Publishing.

>> Plato’s cave

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