Plato’s Aesthetics Essay

July 7, 2021 by Essay Writer

The censorship of works of art or media images is a timeless issue for two different groups of people: supporters who are affected by the restrictions, and those who are appealing to the freedom of expression. Looking at the problem through the arguments of Plato, Aristotle, and David Hume provides enlightenment for a revision of the notions of beauty, art, and censorship.

Plato speaks about the previously mentioned concepts in relation to God. The figure of the creator is an embodiment of good, or virtue, and the only reality, which represented in the Forms. Everything that has been made by its power is truth. On the other hand, the art designed by a human being is only a reflection of the creator and its work in the human world.

Therefore, man-made art is not a reality but an illusion. The concepts of deception and evil are contrary to that of virtue and, according to Plato, everything that distorts and corrupts reality should be restricted. The works of art that do not manifest grace but disfigure the significance of the matter and, thus, harm human beings should be censured.

It is helpful to follow Plato’s argument to justify the limitations on media images and artwork. The philosopher defines God and the creator’s responsibilities in the text of the Republic: The creator is real and the opposite of evil. A lot of people ascribe the formation of all things to God, however, it does just a few, and the making of all kinds of misery should not be attributed to the creator (Ross 12). According to Plato, a work of art is not a deed of God, but of a man.

The efforts of a human being cannot be comparable with the creator’s design considering excellence; the art only strives for perfection, and as far as the creation is virtuous, it represents God’s intention. Deliberate or not, the lack of integrity in art forms may lead to corruption, which is a sign of evil (Ross 8). As an illustration, the numerous images that objectify women as a sexual commodity and circulate in the media distort the perception of the female body and the role of women in society.

Another representation of cruelty is shown in Irreversible (2002), Gaspar Noe’s film, filled by the graphic scenes of violence and sexual abuse. The natural response to such depictions is “disgust as a unique defense reaction manifested as nausea, turning away from the image or even physically distancing oneself from it” (Kuplen 8). Should these pieces of human creation be restricted from availability to the general public? Applying Plato’s logic, they may negatively affect a viewer, especially a young one, deceive him, and distort his knowledge of reality and, thus, require limitation.

One of Plato’s foundations, the concept of ideal Forms that are a genuine representation of virtue and beauty and could only be reflected in works of art, is challenged by Aristotle. He assumes that these universal ideals are integral parts of an object because they change with the development of the matter. Moreover, the origin of the Forms as God’s creations does not explain their connection with the real substances, and in particular, those that have been produced by a man. Since the perception of beauty or virtue is linked to the understanding of the object, they are pieces of it (Ross 67).

Nevertheless, in his critique of Plato’s ideas, Aristotle considers art as modesty: “Then beauty of style and harmony and grace and good rhythm depend on simplicity, – I mean the true simplicity of a rightly and nobly ordered mind and character” (Ross 31). Aristotle’s examination of poetry as an art form brings him to the conclusion that the ethical aspect of a literary piece is the primary concern of an author. Philosopher’s assumption that the character who reflects high ethical standards can demonstrate what is right or bad ( Ross 72) while the depraved personifications have potential destructive forces does not lead to the idea that the works of art should be censured even though they have negative protagonists or distort reality.

Beauty is an essential element in works of art for both philosophers. They refer to a word, kalon, which can be translated as grace, however, not literally. For Plato and Aristotle, beauty is entirely connected to moral virtue (Irwin 382). This raises the question: Is it necessary for only exquisite matters and characters with strong ethics to be present in artwork? The philosophers’ arguments reject the necessity of this notion. According to Plato, evil as the antagonism of beauty demonstrates the wrong approach, and can be overcome by itself through the search for truth. The philosopher writes that malicious entities are wicked by their essence (Ross 59). Moreover, they cannot destroy other bodies that do not contain the presence of corruption and, thus, a soul cannot be demolished by an alien evil (Ross 60). Therefore, Plato’s ideas leave space for a critical approach to censorship that should not be applied without the proper understanding of the nature of the offensive parts of the works of art or the whole pieces affected by unpleasant content.

The idea of taste in art as introduced by David Hume is helpful in the process of evaluating products of the media and artistic creations. Development of taste to perceive the aesthetic value in works highlights the notion of inner integrity, which is supposed to exist, according to Plato, inside of a human being, at least, for the reason that man was designed by God and like all of creation, an individual has excellence inside of him. This perfection assists a man in what may be, at times, a strenuous effort to separate the virtue from the evil.

At the same time, Hume claims that virtue is an ideal image created in the mind, and affects the perception of pieces of art from person to person. Accepting this assumption, it is possible to conclude that neither works of art nor media images should be censored or restricted in any way. The understanding of art depends only on individuals and their natural inclinations. If a man is moral by his nature, he will perceive the piece of art according to his intrinsic values. The same is of value for a man who is corrupted. His understanding of the same work of art will be different because his personality and experience allow him observing something that the man of virtue cannot comprehend. Therefore, the introduction of censorship will limit the scope of meanings that the images have.

In summary, applying Plato’s view on art, the regulation of media products and the aesthetic domain has to be limited by common sense. Every person perceives information according to diverse personal and social aspects. There will be a threat of an absence of various voices if any one position, even the virtuous one, is accepted as the truth.

Works Cited

Irwin, T.H. “The Sense and Reference of Kalon in Aristotle.” Classical Philology 105.4 (2010): 381-396.

Kuplen, Mojca. The Notion of Disgust in Comparison to Ugliness: A Kantian Perspective.

Ross, Stephen. Art and Its Significance: An Anthology of Aesthetic Theory. Albany: State University of New Yok Press, 1994. Print.

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