Plato: Poetry and Reason
Plato’s Republic functions upon a foundation of pure rationality and has no place for the art of Poets that “produces a violent [emotional] reaction” [Plato Book III] . It maybe argued that the creativity and emotivity of Poets represents the freedom in man that distinguishes him from a predestined algorithm of thought and action. In this way the question of the role of poets in Plato’s republic more broadly questions what place creativity has in a rational mind.
I argue that Rationality is that aspect of Human Intelligence that forms the cool practical efficiency of the machinery of survival; where unemotional choices are made and executed upon the ruthless logic of the empirically manifest directive of human existence: survival. And from the rational recognition of the directive for the survival of the individual self, an entire protocol of rational laws are derived from the relative utility of one action over an other to the cause of survival. The fact that cooperation is not merely useful to survival, but necessary, is the root logic that justifies an ordered society as necessary. Slavery, taxation, military conquest, virtue, law, character conditioning and education, all become codified into rational law through being variously useful to ordered society, and so survival.
For Plato then, rationality is that practical quality of humanity that, above all other human qualities, governs the materially efficient homeostasis of man: orders, perfects, and perpetuates the economy of inputs and outputs necessary for continued human existence, and is therefore the most important human quality: to be pursued at the cost of suppressing all other human qualities.
In contrast to rationality, which is not creative nor innovative since efficiency and perfection exist as absolute presets, the creativity of poets can be seen as part of an imaginative, emotional, and inspirational consciousness that creates new ideas, information, and identities. Existing outside of the context of material survival and perfect absolutes, the creativity and emotion of poets is not bound by the material or ideas of purpose or utility.
I would argue that it is this emotional and imaginative consciousness that naturally creates social order and the system of cooperation that perpetuates human survival: that it is emotional associations and emotional attachments that bind humans into ordered and cooperating groups, rather than rational recognition of the efficiency of cooperation for selfish directives of survival. Therefore poets actually fulfill an important role of reinforcing and harmonizing the emotional social matrix of ordered societies through emotive art.
My main argument is that within the creativity of Poets a different model of self is possible: one which understands identity as fluid; this is seen in the psychological insight of actors and audiences which watch the masks of characters being taken on and off. This unifies and universalizes individuals by erasing or blurring the perimeters of fixed individual egos. I argue Plato is more concerned in banning Art that does not present a single ego that can be identified with, while encouraging heroic poetry that propagates the idea of individual self, precisely to suppress the the possibility of fluid identities present in the creative potential of art. This is because the emotive model of self is the anti-thesis of the rational model of self, and so is dangerous to any society founded upon pure rationality.
Plato. Republic. Trans. Benjamin Jowett. Classics.mit.edu. WebAtomics. 2009. Web. 24 April. 2010