First aesthetics



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PLATO’S “FIRST AESTHETICS”

BOOK V OF THE REPUBLIC
THE BEGINNING AND PROXIMITY
Book V continues the discussion of virtue and vice in souls and cities that was begun at the end of Book IV. But it is immediately interrupted by Polemarchus and the other interlocutors, all of whom want Socrates to explain the remark he made in passing at 423e-424a about the guardians possessing their wives and children in common. Socrates’ lengthy response to their request occupies the majority of the book (451c – 471c). In it he makes the revolutionary proposal that children should be brought up by the city rather than by their biological parents, and that men and women with the same natural ability should receive the same education and training and do the same kind of work. Hence there will be female guardians and rulers in the Kallipolis, as well as male ones. Many of Socrates’ remarks suggest that these proposals apply to everyone in the Kallipolis, not just to the guardians (455e), but there are other indications (450c) that they apply only to the guardians alone. It must be admitted that Plato has not been as explicit and clear on this matter as we might wish.

Glaucon agrees that a city of the sort Socrates has described would be the best one, but he wonders whether or not it could ever really come about (471c-e). After some important clarification of the nature of the task (472a-473c), Socrates undertakes to show that it could. The smallest change that would transform an already existing city into the Kallipolis is if its kings or rulers become philosophers or if philosophers become its kings or rulers (473c-e). This proposal, Socrates thinks, is likely to produce even more outrage than those about women and children (473c), but he thinks that outrage will subside when he explains what true philosophers are really like (474b-c).

The remainder of Book V is occupied by the beginning of Socrates’ portrait of these philosophers, which consists of a complex argument intended to show that only they can have access to forms and that without such access knowledge is impossible (474c-480a).
The analysis of Book V may, of course, proceed, so to speak, chronologically and close to the text, following strictly the order of the topics in the conversation. However, shall we proceed in this way and start necessarily from the beginning? If we stay true to the way the entire dialogue takes place, we will see its unevenness. Socrates raises an important issue, then he abandons it seemingly on purpose in order to build tension and curiosity of his interlocutors. They in turn often impatiently interrupt him and ask him to return to what they deem important and not fully clarified. So the conversation really vibrates; if I can use the theory of physics, interference is produced and a state of resonance is reached when oscillations match - and this match takes place when a new argument is added to a seemingly complete definition that has already reached consent. Often in these cases there is a pause, awkward silence, some participants directly "go out" of the conversation, as is the case with Thrasymachus. Not coincidentally, the image of the sea is present in the dialogue – the questions and answers come in tides, stronger and weaker. The first severe shock wave that Socrates must repel is how "friends have all things in common". If the guardians are friendly with each other, they should not only have common education and merit, but have to share everything in common among them, including wives, children, material possessions. However, “the biggest and most difficult is the third wave”. That is the most paradoxical question: Is the ideal city realizable? "How it's possible for this constitution to come into being?" (472b). It is this question which serves as an beginning which the conversation constantly returns to, albeit from a different point. The same dialectical way of thinking is applied in the dialogue The Statesman, but it is assumed that there might be another starting point, i.e. the return is not always to the same place (topos). I assume here that these beginnings (archaï, principia), "return points" in question are, so to speak, organically linked and mutually reinforcing. Socrates in Book IV suggests that justice may be examined on a larger scale (polis) and on it can be discerned in the individual. He even claims that “if we could previously examine justice on the larger scale, there would be less difficulty in discerning her in the individual.” “… if there be a difference in the individual”, he continues, “we will come back to the City and have another trial of the theory. The friction of the two when rubbed together may possibly strike a light in which justice will shine forth”. The same narrative or flow from one beginning to another is present in Book V; however, the difference is that the light is brighter due to the paradoxical nature of the questions from beginning to end. The image of the sea facilitates the understanding, if we remember the widespread metaphor after Plato about the philosophic method as "nautilia", sea voyage with a single goal - to find the ultimate principle of existence. Such a principle can be compared with the principle of gravity which governs the waves. The ultimate one giving birth to the multitude. The examination of the multitude, leading to the idea of ​​uniformity. This is the idea of Plato when he introduces the hunt metaphor to his method - the hunter does not follow a straight line chasing his prey and often revolves in a circle. In fact, Plato's metaphors, such as the sea, the hunt, and the friction are not just illustrations or techniques of poetic language. Let’s not forget that Plato's dialogues are both philosophy and fiction in its purest form, a fine art that can create ideas and images much better than any other art. Metaphors are actually the aura of the concepts and definitions, they are the delineated circle of light to which the expansion of the conversation reaches. It is inside this circle in the process of expansion that crystallization of the basic philosophical principles takes place, always re-entering the circle richer due to their rotation in the multitude of things and well-founded into the fundamental principle. About this method of "crystallization" of the mind after circling for a long time around the multitude of things, their images and knowledge about being speaks Plato himself in his Seventh Letter as a five-stage path towards truth.

I hope that, although short, the aforesaid convinces us that the beginning of our conversation can take this starting point, which Socrates's interlocutors constantly return to, as well as he himself does it, sooner or later. This return is of special interest in Book V. And I am going back to it at the end to suggest that it be a fundamental understanding of the field of philosophical aesthetics, as a central idea of ​​what was said in Book V of The Republic.

The term "being" is used in various senses, but with reference to one central idea and one definite characteristic, says Aristotle in Book IV of Metaphysics (1003b), in such a way as healthy refers to health. Therefore, we must observe the principle of correlation which crystallizes in ancient philosophy in the principle of knowing a thing through a similar one. We are bound to attribute the perfect things to perfection, or such do not exist, to establish the extent to which they carry perfection in themselves, the extent to which they participate in it and resemble it. In this case, the idealized community of guardians (the healthy) refers to the central idea - the ideal state. On the other hand, Aristotle in Book III of The Republic examines in detail the meanings we attribute to "principle" (arche). Generally speaking, it may be what comes first, a logical beginning, the way it is in induction and deduction, but also something else that I suggest we understand here – the beginning of a study could be the one, starting from which we disclose the subject in the best possible way and achieve its essence as completely as possible. The principle of the best is the principle of Plato – and Aristotle does not criticize and does not forget his teacher.

But what would be the best for us at the beginning of 21st century after thousands of years of interpretations of The Republic, more voluminous than the work itself and selective in nature, based on what appealed to a given time or person? When medieval theologians talk about "our Plato," they disclose that any reading of Plato is a type of appropriation. The question is whether, how and why we appropriate - and this is no longer just a matter of honesty, to reveal in advance the attitude and method we employ to analyze the work. Because it is clear that a classical philologist and an analytic philosopher will read The Republic differently and everyone will find something important. Both, however, may wonder about the claim of the famous French philosopher Alain - Alain on Happiness (Propos sur le bonheur, 1909), namely that "Plato is always closer to us than we think" -seemingly casually said words, stories that "resound deep within us," or as Heidegger put it, touch us deeply in our essence. Alain cites the famous myth of Er, in Book X of The Republic. According to the myth imprudent souls in the afterlife, which are free to choose, cannot break away from their desires and they are punished in the next life. Alain simply suggests that we, who do not believe in the afterlife, take the same journey, here and now, every day.



Can we then assume that there is such a part of Book V, which we repeat every day? I would assume that such a part refers to those whose Socrates describes "like philosophers", "those who love the sight of truth", "who belives in beautiful things, but doesn't believe in the beautiful itself "," the lovers of sights and sounds "who" like beautiful sounds, colors, shapes and everything fashioned out of them "-" the many just things "," the many doubles "(476b). For those admirers of "beautiful things" Socrates does not speak negatively, in contrast, he evaluates their "intermediate" position as "lovers of opinion" (480a). It is known that there is a right opinion, which is not true, but it is not misleading and is mid-way between knowledge and ignorance. They are in the middle of that way of love (eros), that ladder, which Plato describes in one of his most famous dialogues Symposium (211b-c): the erotic path of knowledge involves moving “ever onwards for the sake of that beauty, as though using ascending steps, from one body to two and from two to all beautiful bodies, from beautiful bodies to beautiful practical endeavors, from practical endeavors to beautiful examples of understanding” until wondrous beauty flashes all of a sudden. The flash reminds us of the spark we have to get to understand Justice. Eros is a philosopher who wants to reach the beauty of justice. But he must do something else as well: releasing himself of bodily sensations through prudence (phronesis) to transfer the "terrible power" of the prime attraction to his supreme object, namely "the beautiful itself". And no wonder - throughout the Republic justice is examined as well as "beautiful itself". Even if today we are not metaphysicians, as Alain says, nonetheless we belong to the same movement when assessing the beauty of everything around us, visible and invisible. We attain the truth only when we love its beauty – that is what all Platonists after Plato repeat. But perhaps we continue to have “an idea about beautiful" and understand what "the beauty of truth" means not only because we admire the colors, sounds, things, but there is yet another reason referred to in Book V. To understand it, we must focus on the Greek text, translated in English as follows: "fashioned out of them": τὰ ἐκ τῶν τοιούτων δημιουργούμενα. "Demiourgeo" refers to the artistic technique, to the way in which man creates using his skill (techne). That is, although they cannot see the nature of “the beautiful itself" (to kalon), people recreate it in their daily activities. Such a conclusion is also quite close to us. And probably it is also the first step in the understanding of creativity in general. In The Symposium there is another very famous passage (205c), in which the prophetess Diotima says that in his endeavor to attain beauty man actually creates beauty" - the word is poiesis. Therefore, the creation of Plato is creation of beauty and holds a much higher position than his evaluation of poets or arts, of which he speaks in many places in The Republic, including Book X. In brief, in Book V Plato introduces the idea of ​​a creative power (dynamis). Dynamis after Plato (and for Aristotle in particular) begins to mean potentiality, what has been given by nature, which is ready to be taken out into reality (energeia), ready to start its existence. Book V clearly distinguishes dynamis according to what it is intended for: the things or the beautiful itself. The distinction is as important as the conclusion in the end of Book V, that "lovers of opinion" (philodoxous) do not coincide with lovers of wisdom (philosophous), because "the opinion and knowledge are different powers" (478b). Dynamis is used in both singular and plural. Here Platonism shows another hidden "vulnerability" and Aristotle does not fail to develop a plurality of powers.

To sum up, we may approach Book V with view to proximity: first, the proximity of the questions raised to us today, and second, the proximity in time and topics which I would describe as an attempt to interpret Plato from "inside" via dialogues close to The Republic. It is no coincidence that The Republic was written at about the same time as The Symopsium, The Phaedrus and The Phaedo, the so-called "middle dialogues" with the most developed metaphysical views, which relate mainly to 1) the fundamental principle of existence and being - the principle of the best, and 2) the role of love for beautiful that opens the way to one of the most profound aesthetic theories.


THE BEAUTIFUL DREAM AND THE AWAKENING OF “FIRST” AESTHETICS
Not many studies in the history of philosophy suggest that the most important for us is the third and final part of Book V, starting from 472c to the end (480a), offering a conclusion put forward powerfully in Book VI via a number of related metaphysical questions. Let's follow the logic of the narration to return to this assertion.

To define beauty, most people start from their immediate experience of beautiful appearances. They like one thing or another thing, one person or another person or even they like one thing in a person and dislike another, thus forming an opinion about beauty. Socrates argues that precisely in this mundane fascination with beautiful things and the inability to break away from them, people dream. However, the dialogue does not search for what and how many the just and beautiful things are or whether certain things can be just and unjust, beautiful and ugly at the same time. It searches for what is justice and beauty. To find it, the rule of the Sophist Protagoras "Man is the measure of all things" is introduced "paradoxically". If we discover what justice is like, will we also maintain that the just man is no way different from the just itself, so that he is like justice in every respect? Or will we be satisfied if he comes as close to it possible and participate in it far more than anyone else? (472b). This means that models of a perfectly just and a perfectly unjust man are necessary to find out what their relationship to happiness is (472c), to investigate their fate, and to find out who is most similar to these two models. But Socrates warns: "But we weren't trying to discover these things in order to prove that it's possible for them to come into being". Therefore, the measure (metron) "man" is not a specific person of sophists. The model of man in one respect, so to speak, is "tried out" in real situations. It is expected that this pattern is unlikely to match anyone or anything, so its function is to discover just what is closest (the principle of close approximation).  The narrative which introduces an aesthetic argument, an example of painting, actually speaks of three people: the first one who paints a portrait of the "most beautiful human being" (472d-e) and everything, "every detail of this picture", is presented adequately; the second one, the one painted on the portrait, and the third one, the actually existing handsome man, who most likely does not correspond precisely to the portrait on the canvas. The fact that the portrait cannot come to life, says Socrates, does not lead to the conclusion that the painter is worse. On the contrary, the only perfection is the power of painting, dynamis, which has already been mentioned, and is the same power, the capacity to paint, that is to set up mentally an ideal state. "We were making a theoretical model of a good city" (472e) in the way the artist paints his most beautiful person according to his mental idea of beauty. Here again, we hear a very interesting aesthetic argument that Plato uses elsewhere: although the work of the one who creates in words a model of a perfect man or a perfect state resembles the work of an artist, "the painting in words" is more valuable because the word is more plastic and can sculpture any complex picture in motion. Moreover, the word can superimpose several images. Socrates shows this in Book IX, when he paints a really strange verbal portrait of the human soul.  At this point (473a-b) there is a distinction between theory and practice, which affects each philosophy. "Is it possible to do anything in practice the same as in theory? Or is it in the nature of practice to grasp truth less well than theory does? "The analogy with the artist who cannot paint anything more perfect on the same canvas as opposed to a thinker is clear. Practice is limited. It "captures" partially the idea and enslaves it in one aspect, while the idea itself continues being whole only in theory. Here the logical consequences for the philosopher himself, the first of the three who has the power to "draw", i.e. to see the beautiful in theory, as an idea, and to create it in practice, become clearer. Socrates is ready to paint the portrait of the philosopher, according to an aesthetic principle again, and he does it after 474c.

The philosopher is the one who loves (the verb means "respect" as well) the whole, not "one part of it" (λλ πν στργοντα: 474d). The reason is that in this way he reaches the truth. But which truth? Glaucon wants to be reminded what is said about the love of the whole (the all, the one), because he has forgotten the way Socrates has proved in Book IV, 438a-b, that the "eidos "of virtue is one". Socrates makes a rather sharp satirical remark that it is Glaucon, an "erotically inclined man", who should be good at remembering the "erotic necessities" and how beautiful boys attract everyone with different features of their appearances (474e).  So do the "worshippers of Eros", all lovers of wine, the ambitious ones and the rest, aspiring to something diverse (475b-c). But, as was mentioned at the beginning of the dialogue, the desire in general is different from the desire for something specific, so the one who desires is the one who desires the whole. Such is the philosopher. He loves the total wisdom, not one or another part of the wisdom (475d). Furthermore, there is a difference in the strength, intensity of desire - a philosopher is only the one who, so to speak, has strong appetite for knowledge, "who readily and willingly tries all kinds of learning, who turns gladly to learning and is insatiable for it". Leaving aside the comparison with the lover of food and the casually introduced analogy with insatiable appetite for different tastes which later gives rise to an aesthetics of the taste, then this passage is remarkable with its conclusion that philosophy remains a fundamental desire, linked with pleasure - the pleasure of diverse learning. And the pleasure is par excellence a theme of aesthetics. In fact, in his later dialogues, Plato distinguishes more clearly the pleasures of the senses from joy that brings a new idea: that is, the senses delight and thus are deceived, while the mind is happy, happy with the truth, feels happiness. It was not by chance that philosophical happiness was called eu-daimonia in antiquity. As Socrates defines it in Apology and other dialogues, this is the intrinsic, divine power daimon, which prevents the philosopher from injustice and needless misbelieves and in rare cases leads him to divine inspiration, akin to the inspiration of poets.

But Glaucon at this point clearly understands one thing and does not understand another. He understands the thesis of fundamental desire and pleasure inbred in philosophers, but does not perceive the limitation introduced by Socrates. The pleasure of the philosopher does not extend completely and indiscriminately on everything. Pleasure itself is not whole, but it is the pleasure of all knowledge. That is why he suggests: "Then many strange people will be philosophers". "The lovers of sights seem to be included, since they take pleasure in learning things"; in the same way lovers of sounds, mentioned at the beginning, must be included as philosophers, because they run to and fro, and crave to hear as much as possible. "Are we to say that these people - and those who learn similar things or pretty crafts - are philosophers?” asks Glaucon.

At the beginning of the lecture I suggested that this issue makes Book V very close to our time. But I am going to leave it to you to compare the response: "They are like philosophers" (475d) with what Diogenes Laertius says about Plato, namely: "XXXVIII. But he employs a great variety of terms in order to render his philosophical system unintelligible to the ignorant. In his phraseology he considers wisdom as the knowledge of things which can be understood by the intellect, and which have a real existence: which has the Gods for its object, and the soul as unconnected with the body. He also, with a peculiarity of expression, calls wisdom also philosophy, which he explains as a desire for divine wisdom. But wisdom and experience are also used by him in their common acceptation; as, for instance, when he calls an artisan wise (sophos). He also uses the same words in different senses at different times".

In Book V, however, the logic resulting from the portrait of the philosopher is clear: philosophers "are those who love the sight of truth" (475e). Note Socrates’ answer! Philosophers do not just love the truth, but they "love the sight of truth". The sight is an aesthetic faculty, which proves to be fundamental and comes first when the beautiful is distinguished from the ugly and from everything else in reality
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