Why Did Plato Ban Poets From His Ideal Society?

Who is Plato?

Plato was an Athenian citizen with a high status in society, and a major name in the world of philosophy. He is known to be one of the most influential authors of his time and all time. In Plato’s work proves to be provocative, intellectual, indirect and suggestive, his work has been and continues to be inspirational and educative to millions of people. His life ranged from about 429 – 347 B.C.E. Plenty of philosophers have considered themselves as Platonists, because they are such huge fans of his work, theories and mind. Although there is and was nobody quite like Plato, other philosophers such as Kant, Aquinas, and Aristotle might be comparable. Some of Plato’s works include, ‘The Apology’ and ‘The Republic’, but he wrote at least 30 dialogues.

Plato was also known to many people as ‘the maker of mathematicians’ because he is the one who founded the first known Western university, The Academy, he believed that science and mathematics were very important to society. Plato was believed to be around 40 when he founded the first known institution. Throughout his life and his works, Plato contributed quite a lot to many subfields of philosophy such as metaphysics, ethics and cosmology. Based on written evidence, or lack of, it is believed that Plato never married and never had children of his own but he did have four siblings, three brothers and one sister. Plato was a student of Socrates and Cratylus, then in turn Plato actually had Aristotle as his own student.

What is ‘The Republic’ About?

‘The Republic’ is one of Plato’s most well known works and is usually the one most likely to get talked about. In this work Plato discusses his opinions on the human soul, on what he thinks the ideal society would be, his beliefs on hierarchy, and how he believed that only a ruler of wisdom should reign over society.

Three Parts of a Human Soul

It is no secret that in one of Plato’s works, ‘The Republic’, he talks about poets and how he felt about the poets. First before you understand what Plato had against poets, you must understand the reasoning he had behind this opinion. According to Plato, there are three parts to everybody’s soul that must help keep each of the other parts of the soul in check, these parts include:

  • The Rational Part of a Soul – Plato believed that the rational part of a human’s soul was the intelligence and the ability to tell the difference between facts and things that just weren’t true. This part of the soul is to keep the other parts of the soul in check and balanced while allowing the person to make sensible and rational decisions.
  • The Appetitive Part of a Soul – Plato believed that the appetitive part of a human’s soul was the cravings that a human gets such as being hungry, lusting, and emotions. He believed that this part of the soul also made people desire to overeat, even if they did not act on the desires. This part of the soul is also linked to our sex drives, and motivates us to participate in such activities that crave our desires.
  • The Spirited Part of a Soul – Plato believed that the spirited part of a human’s soul was to give the human a drive to be victorious while also being honorable. He believed that if the spirited part of a human’s soul was disappointed, that is when the emotion of being angry comes out. This part of the soul is also where our instincts come in, which could be considered to be in comparison with the ‘fight or flight’ response that is talked about and has been talked about in modern psychology.

While he believed in these three parts of a soul, he believed that the rational part of the soul was the most important and that the spirited and appetitive parts were to be kept under control by the rational part. If a human was to feed into the appetitive part or the spirited part of their soul they were taking away from the rational part of their soul and therefore were not fully human.

Banishing Poets From His Ideal State in ‘The Republic’

Now that there is an understanding of how Plato viewed the human soul and separated it into three parts, with the rational part being the dominant part, the reason he had a dislike for poets could be understood. He believed that a poet did not use the rational part of their soul, but instead allowed the appetitive part of their soul reign over the other parts. It is known that poets have a talent for bringing out emotions, whether it be sadness, joy, love or anger, because of this talent they were promoting themselves and others to act irrationally. Since the poets draw their talents off of emotions, they are not allowing the appetitive part of their soul to be suppressed by the rational part of their soul and therefore poets were not fully human. Plato believed since the poets would encourage others to do the same thing by sharing their poetry, that the poets should be banned from the perfect society.

However, there are other arguments and theories as to why Plato didn’t like poets as well. Some people say that he didn’t like poets because he believed that they distorted truth, fed young minds with false hopes, ideas and truths, confused other’s reason by feeding into emotions, and poets were just plain imitators to actual reality. Although these other thoughts, suggestions, arguments, and theories don’t mention the three parts of a human soul that Plato believed in, they go along the same lines. The bottom line is that to Plato, the poets clouded not only their own judgement but others judgment as well and could be dangerous to the perfect society. For a society, or state, to be successful, there needed to be more reason and reason needed to control and overpower emotion.

In ‘The Republic’, Plato discusses reasons as to why poets should be banned from the perfect society. Some of these points that he discusses against poets include but are not limited to:

  • Death Shall Not Be Feared – The poets used their poems to teach young children and other members of society that they should mourn their loved ones that have died and that they should themselves fear death.
  • Gods Do Not Engage in Evil Doings – In the poetry written by poets, they sometimes portray the gods doing bad and horrible things. Plato believed that nothing but good things comes from gods, and that the young should be taught that evil things never come from the gods.
  • Fun Discourages Rationality – Poetry often encouraged engaging in fun activities such as playing, lusting, drinking and eating. Fun things were not to be done because fun detours people from doing what needs to be done, from doing the rational thing.
  • The Wicked Must Be Made to Suffer Not Triumph – In some of the poetry, poets would have a wicked person happy or a good person unhappy. This idea did not sit right with Plato, he was a firm believer that the wicked people must always suffer and the good people will always triumph.

Poets may have been a danger to the perfect society in Plato’s eyes, but they were not the only ones that endangered his ideal state. It was just not acceptable to Plato for an actor to ever play a ‘bad man’ or a person that did bad or horrible things. It is not possible for an actor or an author to create and produce a drama without having a bad character, so Plato took this into consideration and went into the banning of dramatists as well as poets from his ideal state. Although music and gymnastics were actually believed to be quite important to Plato, other art forms such as artists, novelists, and comedians would not have held up to Plato’s standards for his ideal state and they would have been banned as well. Also, in ‘The Republic’ Plato discussed and expressed his dislike for flutes and that they should be banned from his ideal society, but it is believed that when Plato was on his deathbed he actually called for someone to come and play the flute for him while he tapped the rhythm of the music with the same fingers that have written the great works of his that are still in circulation today.

According to his beliefs on poets and why he felt that way, most of us would not hold up to the standards, therefore most of us would not be welcomed into Plato’s ideal state. The works of Plato have been under discussion for a long time by people all over the world, especially students. It is amazing how his words can be so influential and disected in so many ways by millions of people. It is believed that Plato travelled around because he was a higher person in society, he travelled to places such as Italy, Egypt and Sicily, because he studied the natural world and came up with the theories that are discussed and interpreted in classrooms all over in today’s world.

Sources:

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/plato/

https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v20/n10/m.f.-burnyeat/art-and-mimesis-in-plato-s-republic

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Plato

https://academichelp.net/analysis/platos-argument-for-three-parts-of-the-soul/#:~:text=Plato%20argues%20that%20the%20soul,reason%20rules%20while%20appetite%20obeys.

https://richardswsmith.wordpress.com/2016/03/04/the-six-reasons-why-plato-condemned-poets/

https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-history/plato

Gene Botkin

Gene is the director of the Theosis Christian Project. He studied physics and military science before founding the Project. Gene is currently pursuing his doctorate in systems engineering at an engineering college in the Ozarks. The Theosis Christian Project is his attempt to expand Holy Orthodoxy in America.

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