The Russian Artist in Plato's Republic

In Л.Х. Самситова Л.Ф. Абубакирова (ed.), Гуманистическое наследие просветителей в культуре и образовании: материалы Международной научно-практической конференции (VII Акмуллинские чтения) 7 декабря 2012 года. Ufa, Russia: pp. 574-585 (2013)
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In Book 10 of the Republic, Plato launches an extensive critique of art, claiming that it can have no legitimate role within the well-ordered state. While his reasons are multifac- eted, Plato’s primary objection to art rests on its status as a mere shadow of a shadow. Such shadows inevitably lead the human mind away from the Good, rather than toward it. How- ever, after voicing his many objections, Plato concedes that if art “has any arguments to show it should have a place in a well-governed city, [he] would gladly welcome it back.” Over two millennia later, the nineteenth-century Russian philosopher Vladimir Solov’ev implicitly responded to this challenge in his Lectures on Godmanhood (1881). Solov’ev cited the phenomenon of art as additional proof in favor of his model of the metaphysical foundations of reality. According to Solov’ev, art is not three steps removed from ultimate reality; rather, an artist creates true art only when he has experienced a vision of the univer- sal and substantial ideas that stand over and above particular things, and then conveys them to the viewer directly, via the artistic medium. Hence, the artist is able to sidestep the in- termediate shadow and produce something that is more than a shadow—a clear reflection of that higher reality. If Solov’ev is correct, the artist should enjoy the elevated status of sage, per- haps even philosopher-king, rather than face exile from Plato’s republic, because the artist both knows the Good and guides the less enlightened toward it. After a brief sketch of the metaphysical grounds for Plato’s critique of art, I provide an analysis of Solov’ev’s ontology, as represented in his Lectures on Godmanhood. Next, I describe Solov’ev’s concept of the three-fold mission of art and its relationship to human nature, drawing both from the Lectures and from The Universal Meaning of Art (1890). Finally, in the last section, I demonstrate how the afore-mentioned account comprises Solov’ev’s robust and successful response to Plato’s challenge, from within a platonic framework.
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