Art and Education in Plato: The Praise Beneath the Criticisms in the Republic

By Kenneth Dorter.

Published by The Arts Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Plato’s arguments in the Republic against the value of art for education are directed only against the popular practices of his day; they also indicate art’s
potential value. The Republic’s sequel, the 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 popular employment, c) Art theory and art works of Plato’s day point to a different 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 is 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

The International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 2, Issue 5, pp.77-88. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.084MB).

Professor Kenneth Dorter

Professor of Philosophy, Department of Philosophy, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada

I work primarily in the History of Philosophy (Asian as well as Western), with a special interest also in the arts and Philosophy of Art, and performing experience in classical music on clarinet and viola. My most recent publication on the arts is The Fusion and Diffusion of Musical Traditions, in The European Legacy 9 (2004) 163–172. My most recent book is The Transformation of Plato’s Republic, Lanham MD: Lexington Books, 2006. I am currently writing a book consisting of individual comparisons between texts of Western philosophers and texts of Chinese and Indian philosophers.


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