Is there an Aesthetic Point of View?

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Transcript Is there an Aesthetic Point of View?

Aristotle’s Aesthetics (382-322 BC):
Welcome to Aristotle!
Western thought’s
first structural
& textual critic of
the Fine Arts!
Aristotle’s Aesthetics (382-322 BC):
“All men by nature to desire to know….the human race
lives also by art and reasonings” Metaphysics 1:1.
Aristotle produced the first
extended study of an art form.
The Poetics is the primary
resource for Aristotle’s view
of art.
Poetics is a reply to Plato’s
condemnation of Poetry.
In terms of literary analysis, in the
Poetics, Aristotle moves back &
Forth between criticism and theory.
He wrote Poetics in our after 334.
We only have Book I; Book II on
comedy is lost.
The Poetics can be somewhat perplexing.
Therefore, it is helpful to keeping in mind
the following guiding questions:
What is poetry?
What kind of poetry is tragedy?
What are tragedy’s essential elements?
Discourse Outline of Aristotle’s Poetics:
Unifying theme is Mimesis: Imitation is representation
Introduction (Poetics 1-5):
A. General Notion of Artistic “imitation” (1)
B. Different Species of Artistic Imitation (2-3)
C. The Development of Poetry (4-5)
Tragedy (Poetics 6-22):
A. Definition and description (6)
B. Discussion of Plot (7-18)
C. Discussion on thought (19)
D. Discussion on diction (20-22)
III. Epic (Poetics 23-24):
A. Discussion of Merits of Tragedy & Epic (26).
If you recall, Plato wanted to ban poetry
for the following reasons:
No knowledge undergirds poetry for poets are ignorant
(Apology 22b-c; on 543a);
Poetry relies on inspiration (Ion 534b-e; Phaedrus, 245a)
rather than reason;
Poetry propagates falsehoods (Republic 337-391);
Poetry arouses irrational passions that displaces reason; it is
intoxicating with its seductive charms of rhythm, meter,
and harmony (Book 10);
Poetry imitates “appearance” and not “reality”; it is a
lower-level metaphysic (mimesis) (Book 10);
Poetry imitates the soul’s worst impulses from its better
ones (Republic 605);
Poetry should be banned if it cannot be justified by reason
(Republic 2-4; 10)
Pertinent Statement: 1449b24-28
The fundamental aspects of Aristotle’s argument
appears in his definition of tragedy:
“A tragedy, then, is the imitation of an action that is serious and
also, as having magnitude, complete in itself; in language with
pleasurable accessories, each kind brought in separately in the
parts of the work; in a dramatic, not in a narrative form; with
incidences arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish its
catharsis of such emotions.” Here, by ‘language with pleasurable
accessories’ I mean that with rhythm and harmony; and by ‘the
kinds separately’ I mean that some portions are worked out with
verse only, and others in turn with song.” Poetics, 1449b24-28.
Important Words to Consider from 1449b24-28:
I am indebted to Nickolas Pappas’ article, “Aristotle” in The Routledge
Companion to Aesthetics, 15-26 for this discussion.
We will now proceed to consider some of the more weighty
words of that statement which will be used to present the
thesis of this book:
Let’s proceed to consider all four words!
First Word is Catharsis:
This word occurs twice in what we have of the Poetics.
No definition is given of the word.
Closing place for stating a purpose or goal is at the end of a
sentence; that is where “catharsis” is located in 1449b2428:
“…wherewith to accomplish its catharsis of such
Three possible definitions with the first two being
psychological and the last being literary:
• Catharsis refers to the “purging the emotions”;
• Catharsis refers to the “clarification or calibration of the
• Catharsis refers to the “incidents in the drama”
(coherent and significant plot structures in the goal of
Catharsis: Three interpretations:
Word also occurs in Politics VIII where mentions the
“catharsis” that music and poetry deliver.
Interpreters of Catharsis have extensively debated this
Before Aristotle’s use “catharsis” was used in a number of
ways including the following:
• Medical catharsis was a purgation (e.g, laxative or
enema cleaning out the digestive system);
• Clean up or clarification.
Catharsis: “Release of emotion”:
Since 19th Century Aristotelian catharsis tended to receive a
medical reading. Nickolas Pappas elaborates on this
“Tragedy flushes out unruly and undesirable passions by
letting them flow freely until we return to an unemotional
state. The terror aroused by a well-made tragedy lets us
release the thousand little terrors we normally swallow
back down” (pg. 17).
Catharsis: “Release of emotion”:
A.E. Taylor states it this way:
“Aristotle has a theory which is directly aimed against this
overstrained Puritanism [referring to Plato’s suppression of fine
arts]. He holds that the very exciting and sensational art which
would be very bad as a daily food may be very useful as an
occasional medicine for the soul. He would retain even the most
sensational forms of music on the account for what he calls their
‘purgative’ value. In the same spirit he asserts that the function
of tragedy, with its sensational representations of the calamities
of its heroes, is ‘by the vehicle of fear and pity to purge our
minds of those and similar emotions.’ The explanation of the
theory is to be sought in the literal sense of the medical term
‘purgative’” (Taylor, Aristotle, 109).
Catharsis: “release of emotion”:
This idea of “release of emotion” has been the traditional
interpretation. Consider the following translation:
“Some persons fall into a religious frenzy, and we see them
restored as a result of the sacred melodies-when they used
the melodies that excite the soul to mystic frenzy-as though
they had found healing [medical treatment] and purgation
[katharsis]. Those who are influenced by pity or fear, and
every emotional nature, must have a like experience, and
others in so far as each is susceptible to such emotions, and
all are in a manner purged and their souls lightened and
delighted. The melodies which purge the passion likewise
give an innocent pleasure to mankind.” Politics, Book
VIII, 1342.6-15.
Catharsis: 3 Reasons Against “Release of emotion”:
First, we know from Aristotle’s ethics that he does not call for the
“celebration” or the “suppression” of emotions; he argues for the
“regular” and “well ordered expressions” (pg. 18). In the
Nicomachean Ethics (Book II 1103b18)
Aristotle states:
Catharsis: Reasons Against “Release of emotion”:
“This, then, is the case with the excellences also; by doing the acts
that we do in our transactions with other men we become just or
just, and by doing the acts that we do in the presence of danger,
and being habituated to feel fear or confidence, we become brave
or cowardly. The same is true of appetites and feelings of anger;
some men become temperate and good-tempered, others selfindulgent and irascible, by behaving in one way or the other in the
appropriate circumstances. Thus, in one word, states arise out of
like activities. This is why the activities we exhibit must be a
certain kind; it is because the states correspond to the differences
between these. It makes no small difference, then, whether we
form habits of one kind or of another from our very youth; it
makes a very great difference, or rather all the difference.” 17
Catharsis: 3 reasons against “Release of Emotion”
Second, music and poetry “educates our emotions because songs
contain images of anger, courage and other traits (Politics, Book
VIII, 1340a-1921. Consider the following excerpt:
“Since then music is a pleasure, and excellence consists in
rejoicing and loving and hating rightly, there is clearly nothing
which we are so much concerned to acquire and to cultivate as
the power of forming right judgments, and of taking delight in
good dispositions and noble actions. Rhythm and melody supply
imitations of anger and gentleness, and also of courage and
temperance, and of all the qualities contrary to these, and of the
other qualities of character, which hardly fall short of the actual
affections, as we know from our own experience, for in listening
to such strains our souls undergo a change.” Politics, Book18VIII,
Catharsis: Another Interpretation:
Aristotle later states:
“Enough has been said to show that music has a power of
forming the character, and should therefore be introduced into
the education of the young. The study is suited to the stage of
youth, for young persons will not, if they can help, endure
anything which is not sweetened by pleasure, and music has a
natural sweetness. There seems to be in us a sort of affinity to
musical modes and rhythms, which makes some philosophers
say that a soul is a harmony, others, that is possesses harmony.”
Politics, Book VIII, 1340b 11-19.
Catharsis is “clarification of emotions”:
And third, delight over the whole experience
trains the soul to enjoy the sight of real-world
virtue. Politics, Book VIII; 1340a22-27.
Therefore, on this view Pappas notes that catharsis
is a clarification of emotion. This is the view held
by L. Golden, R. Janko, and M.C. Nussbaum.
Pappas states:
Catharsis is “clarification of emotions”:
“Training emotions has nothing to do with releasing
them. Training presupposes that the emotions are here
to stay, and need to be calibrated to fit the real-world
situations that call them forth…By rousing powerful
emotions with a simpler train of events than life
provides, tragedy teaches how fear and pity feel and
where they are appropriate. That understanding forms
part of the groundwork for ethical behavior, since
Aristotle connect ethical behavior to well-trained
emotions. Thus the clarification view helps harmonize
Aristotle’s aesthetic with his ethics” (pg. 18).
Catharsis is “clarification of emotions”:
Nevertheless, this view has a glaring difficulty.
While this view offers contextual support to
Aristotle’s argument against Plato’s view of art,
music, and poetry, in Politics Book VIII, 1342a715, Aristotle refers to catharsis as a relief,
something that makes the soul “settle down” (pg.
Catharsis is “incidents in the drama.”
According to Pappas, others still (e.g., Gerald Else)
contend that catharsis does not mean “purging of emotions”
or “clarification of emotions.” Rather, than being a
psychological word, this word is a literary, narratological
term since coherent and significant plot structure is the goal
of tragedy (pg. 19).
This is a minority view.
It has the advantage of looking in the Poetics for an
argument about what literature knows and how it says it.
Catharsis is “incidents in the drama.”
According to Beardsley, “Professor Else, on the other hand,
translates the passage as follows: ‘carrying to completion,
through a course of events in involving pity and fear, the
purification of those painful or fatal acts which have that
quality.’ The purgation, in his reading, is a purification, and
it is not something that takes place in the spectator at all,
but something that takes place in the play. It is carried out
by the plot itself, in virtue of the fact that the plot consists
of events of a certain sort (Professor Else takes pathematon
as tragic events, because pathos in later chapters means
this)” (pg. 65).
Second Word: Mimesis = Image-Making.
1. Mimesis is natural to people from childhood (Poetics
1448b6) as opposed to Plato who saw image-making
as a lower-level metaphysical perversion. Plato
thought of mimesis two fold: as (a) impersonating
and the (b) “mock up” or production of a likeness of
2. Mimesis is a natural propensity and pleasant because
it is a way of learning (Poetics 1448b13; cf. 1448b8) as
opposed to Plato who wants knowledge to come in the
form of universal statements, the highest sort of
Second Word: Mimesis = Image-Making.
3. Humans love to learn (Metaphysics I.1) and mimesis
brings determination and simplification to learning as
opposed to Plato who finds it to be denigrating to a
virtuous education. Aristotle saw mimesis can involve
representation, it is not mimicry nor counterfeiting.
4. Aristotle argues that mimesis takes action as its object
thus, tragedy communicates authentically philosophical
knowledge as opposed to Plato who argued that mimesis
is passive since it either involves putting on the mask
(drama) and impersonating or the production of a
likeness of something (poetry).
Second Word: Mimesis = Image-Making of Reality.
5. Aristotle takes mimesis as imitating nature because of its
orderly and purposeful forms fine arts take on; these are
productive purposes which are rational, consciously
perceive by the mind of its maker (Metaphysics 7.7) as
opposed to Plato who thought it displaced or even
corrupted reason by arousing the non-rational part of the
6. Only the mimetic arts have as their specific purpose to
produce representations or fictional depictions of the world
or reality. This is contrary to Plato because he saw mimesis
as being an imitation of appearance, not reality.
Second Word: Mimesis = Image-Making of Reality.
Regarding the relationship between reality and the artwork,
it is important to observe the following quote from Poetics
“Poetry is more philosophical and more serious than
history, for it deals with universals, while history speaks of
In other words, poetry is offering larger conceptions which
structure human experience and understanding, bringing
unity, wholeness, or completeness.
Third Word: Action.
1. Thus, mimesis is active; mimesis communicates
knowledge, it is not passive, inherently weak, corrupt, or
based in ignorance.
2. Just as some consider photography as not being art because
it is passive (Plato; Republic 596d), Aristotle considers
mimesis to be an active process of selective presentation
because of being a composer of plots, a drawer of lines,
Third Word: Action.
3. Tragedy in poetry represents events and not passions just as
painting is more a matter of line than of color (Poetics,
4. A good plot clearly represents an action; it restricts itself to
a unified action, even if that involves differing characters
and their development. In fact a tragedy imitates a
complete action: a beginning, middle and an end (Poetics,
1450b26). The unity of ploy s derived from the fact that it
is a single action.
Third Word: Action.
5. The unity consists in the right connections among the parts
of a plot. Each even follows the other “either by necessity
or probably” (Poetics 1451a13, 38; 1452a20).
6. Tragedy that represents action contains a general truth.
7. Composing, plot making, play writing, are constructions;
this is something musicians, story tellers, poets, and story
tellers do. Hence a plot is an object that gets constructed.
Third Word: Action.
Potential misreading of Plato:
Some have argued that Plato’s analogy of a mirror
meant to capture not passive automatism, but
Plato may think that the perversity is misusing their
talents to produce so little that is virtuous.
Plato may have been concerned that
characterization, not plot, was the problem of
mimesis; to duplicate an appearance is the issue
when you are strive for the universal form.
Third Word: Action.
- Even if this is the case, the Poetics assert
that plot supremacy over character
establishes a defense of the arts. The causal
principle makes the story plausible and
contains the tragedy’s general statement.
Therefore, tragedy communicated
Fourth Word: Seriousness:
The tragic character be good, serious, superior people
(Poetics 1448a2; 1454a17). “These character’s dignity and
standing ensure the importance of what they undertake and
undergo” (pg. 22).
Aristotle did not want tragedy to present meaningless
suffering; tragic effect is “disgusting”, Poetics 1452b36)
where as appearance of purpose or order is “fine” (Poetics
1452a6-10) (pg. 22-23).
Fourth Word: Seriousness:
Associates bad consequences to a character’s “hamartia”
(Poetics 1453a10) which simply means a mistake, error of
judgment, foolishness, or self-deception in classical Greek.
(pg. 23). It is not used as a defect of character but an
action; the misfortune of heroes depends on what they do.
Tragic plots have strong causal connects whereby it
instructs the audience on morality; mimesis imparts
knowledge (pg. 23).
Luck is also involved; things may not turn out the way one
necessarily hopes; this is the plight of the tragic hero does.
Therefore, for Aristotle, there is “value in the seriousness
of tragedy” (pg. 23).
Aristotle’s View of Beauty:
Aristotle uses “beauty” (kalos) 19 times in Poetics as
compliment for tragic plots, language, and character.
Only once does Aristotle make “beauty” a defining
“criterion for tragedies, when he says they must be neither
too long to surpass what the memory can hold, not too
short to count as serious (Poetics 1451a4-15)” (pg. 24).
Beauty is defined in terms of size or proportion
(Metaphysics 1078a31-b5)
Beauty is a real property of things (Metaphysics 1072b3235). Aristotle writes:
Aristotle’s View of Beauty:
Beauty is defined in terms of size or proportion
(Metaphysics 1078a31-b5). Consider Aristotle’s comment
in Poetics 1450b35:
“either a living creature of any structure made of parts,
must have not only an orderly arrangement of these parts
but a size which is not accidental-for beauty lies in size and
Aristotle’s View of Beauty:
Beauty is a real property of things (Metaphysics 1072b3235). Aristotle writes:
“Those who suppose, as the Pythagoreans and Speusippus
do, that supreme beauty and goodness are not present in
the beginning, because the beginnings both of plants and of
animals are causes, but beauty and completeness are in the
effects of these, are wrong in their opinion. For the seed
comes from other individuals which are prior and
complete, and the first thing is not seed but the complete
being, e.g., we must say that before the seed there is a
man,-not the man produced from the seed, but another
from whom the seed is produced.”
Aristotle’s View of Beauty:
Moreover, in Parts of Animals, 645a23-25, Aristotle relates
beauty to design:
“Absence of haphazard and conduciveness of everything to
an end are to be found in nature’s works in the highest
degree, and the end for which those work are put together
and produced is a form of the beautiful.”
So, while Aristotle’s view of beauty may be vague, it is
clear that he believed beauty to be objective; beauty is
derived from the nature of the beautiful object; it is related
to size and proportion; it is related to design.
Final Thoughts on Aristotle’s Aesthetics:
While Aristotle doesn’t provide offer a robust account of
philosophical aesthetics whereby he deals with the problems of
defending aesthetic judgments, we are able to conclude the
Aesthetics involves objective reality; it is cognitively
perceived and can be imitated.
Aesthetics is pedagogically valuable and serious.
Beauty is a real property; He is an empiricist who believed all
knowledge begins in the senses.
Final Thoughts on Aristotle’s Aesthetics:
Aesthetics involves aesthetic experiences; he doesn’t deny its
impact on people. In fact, we take pleasure in imitation
because it is a special case of learning. In fact, the unity of
plot, etc. may be seen as an aesthetic predicate.
Mimesis or imitation involves a special kind of
representation: it is a matter of representing an object. It can
be the art of imitating visual appearances by means of color
and drawing or the art of imitating human actions by means of
dance and song.
Final Thoughts on Aristotle’s Aesthetics:
Mimesis in poetry, in order to have its impact, must involve a
real understanding of human nature; for without this
knowledge you can’t have a very good play (Beardsley, 63).
Therefore, psychological laws must be true one for dramatic
Aristotle is a structural and textual critic because he analyzes
aspects of structure, chiefly concerned with plot. If catharsis
is seen as a structural concept rather than a psychological one,
then this description of Aristotle is appropriate. One can also
say he is textual critic because he is concerned with analysis
at the verbal level: Rhetoric.
Final Thoughts on Aristotle’s Aesthetics:
Beardsley makes two comments that are most
interesting to consider. First:
“What Plato feared most as a bad example for Athenian
youth was the suggestion that good men are unhappy
and that bad men prosper. Aristotle’s reply might be
understood in this way: there is no need to have a
moral censorship of plays, but only an aesthetic one.
For the play about the good man who becomes unhappy
or the bad man who becomes happy will simply not be
a very good tragedy; other things being equal, morality
and justice will coincide with aesthetic excellence”
(Aesthetics, pg. 67).
Final Thoughts on Aristotle’s Aesthetics:
And secondly, Monroe Beardsley observes:
“When Aristotle inquires into the ‘nature of something…He asks:
what is the nature of the poetic art? And the answer is both
normative and descriptive. For it involves a set of categories that
play a fundament role in all of his thinking: the ‘four causes,’ or
four types of explanation (see Physics II, vii). These are not
mentioned in the Poetics itself, but it is interesting that in the
Metaphysics (V [Δ ], ii) when he distinguishes the four causes,
his example of the ‘material’ cause is ‘the bronze of the statue’;
the ‘formal’ cause is the pattern,’ or ‘formula of the essence’; the
‘efficient cause is the productive agent (e.g., the sculptor and his
activity); the ‘final’ cause is ‘the end, i.e., that for the sake of
which a thing is’ (trans. Ross)” (pp. 55-56).
Final Thoughts on Aristotle’s Aesthetics:
Four causes for the statue of Athena:
2 intrinsic causes:
Material Cause
Bronze; out of which
it was made.
Formal Cause
Pattern, form,
essence; of which it
was made.
2 External causes:
Efficient Cause =
Artist; by which it was
Final Cause
The purpose; that45
for which it was made.
A.E. Taylor makes an interesting claim about the Poetics:
“Poetics was meant to be a collection of rules by obeying
which the craftsman might make sure of turning out a
successful play. So far as Aristotle has a Philosophy of
Fine Art at all, it forms part of his more general theory of
education and must be looked for in the general discussion
of the aims of education in his Politics.” Aristotle, 20-21.
Aristotle, The Complete Works of Aristotle, rev. Oxford
Translation, edited by Jonathan Barnes, 2 Vols. (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1984).
Monroe Beardsley, Aesthetics: From Classical Greek to
the Present: A Short History (Tuscaloosa: The University
of Alabama Press, 1966).
A Companion to Aesthetics (Malden, M.A.: Blackwell,
1992, 1995).
Routledge Companion to Aesthetics, edited by Berys Gaut
and Dominic McIver Lopes (London: Routledge, 2001).
A.E. Taylor, Aristotle, 3rd edition (Toronto, Ontario:
General Publishing 1955).