Art and Education in Plato: The Praise Beneath the Criticisms in the Republic
Plato’s arguments in the Republic against the value of art for education are directed only against the practices of his day, and also indicate art’s potential value. The Republic’s sequel, Timaeus, recognizes the value of art for education as long as it is employed “not for irrational pleasures as now”, but to produce harmony within us. There are several indications that this is the lesson of the Republic’s criticisms: a) The view that art is imitation is expressed not by Socrates but Glaucon, and Socrates urges him to reconsider it. Socrates himself earlier suggested that a painter might imitate something like a form, b) Each of Socrates’ arguments suggests a positive contribution of art at the same time that it criticizes its present employment, c) The art theory and art works of Plato’s day point to a view of art not as imitation but as aiming at the ideal, and the mythic paradigms on which the tragedies were based lead to a similar conclusion, d) The concluding myth of Er shows how art can achieve its educational function without succumbing to the dangers that Plato saw as undermining the value of art in his day. It's an edifying poetic creation free from all six dangers pointed to by Socrates.
Keywords: Art and Education, Ancient Greek Art and Theory, Plato, Edifying Myth
Professor Kenneth Dorter
Professor of Philosophy, Department of Philosophy, University of Guelph