How to play the Platonic flute: Mimêsis and Truth in Republic X

In Heather L. Reid & Jeremy C. DeLong (eds.), The Many Faces of Mimēsis: Selected Essays from the Third Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Heritage of Western Greece,. Sioux City, IA, USA: Parnassos Press. pp. 37-48 (2018)
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The usual interpretation of Republic 10 takes it as Socrates’ multilevel philosophical demonstration of the untruth and dangerousness of mimesis and its required excision from a well ordered polity. Such readings miss the play of the Platonic mimesis which has within it precisely ordered antistrophes which turn its oft remarked strophes perfectly around. First, this argument, famously concluding to the unreliability of image-makers for producing knowledge begins with two images—the mirror (596e) and the painter. I will show both undercut the argument they introduce. Secondly, Socrates repeats the “three removes” argument three times. Each has its own object and philosophical axis. The “bed” argument (596a-598d) concerns the ontological status of images vis-à-vis human makers and the divine idea. The bit and bridle,” 601b-601d) emphasizes the epistemological status of image-making as beneath the human maker of bridles (having correct opinion) and the human user, who knows. This second takes away the ontological distinction which was the point of the first. Thus, any human being could be in any of the three positions—user, maker, imitator. This dance might bring one to doubt the conclusion that the imitator has “neither knowledge nor right opinion” (602a). Plato leads into his concluding psychological and moral argument (602c-605c) after a third variation of the 3 removes. This last gives us the image of the flute player (601d-602) as the one who knows and so can order the flute maker. We will conclude by considering what it is this flutist could know, and given that his art is itself a mimesis, who the imitator of this imitative artist could be. Thus attention to the differences among these examples opens a defense of the arts, which reverses many of the claims made against the arts within the ostensible “Platonic” argument.
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