chapter  1
12 Pages

PLATO

ByCHRISTOPHER JANAWAY

Plato’s writings about the arts play a foundation role in the history of aesthetics, not simply because they are the earliest substantial contribution to the subject. The close integration of Plato’s philosophy of art with his metaphysics and ethics, his antagonism towards the arts, and the mastery of writing styles that makes him “of all philosophers . . . the most poetical” (Sidney 1973: 107) also contribute to his enduring influence. From a modern point of view it is striking that Plato refuses to grant autonomous value to what we call art. For him there is a metaphysical and ethical order to the world which it is philosophy’s task to discover by means of rational thought, and the arts can have true worth only if they correctly represent this order or help in aligning us with it. These principles of evaluation are at their clearest in the Republic whose overall question is, What is justice? Plato constructs a picture of the ideally just individual and the ideally just citystate, and gives an account of the nature of knowledge and education, culminating in the proposal that the rulers of the ideal state would be philosophers, those uniquely in possession of methods for attaining knowledge of the eternally existing Forms that constitute absolute values in Plato’s universe.