Aristotle vs Plato – Theory of Mimesis

Aristotle agrees with Plato in calling the poet an imitator and creative art, imitation. He imitates one of the three objects – things as they were/are, things as they are said/thought to be or things as they ought to be. In other words, he imitates what is past or present, what is commonly believed and what is ideal. Aristotle believes that there is natural pleasure in imitation which is in- born instinct in men. It is this pleasure in imitation that enables the child to learn his earliest lessons in speech and conduct from those around him, because there is a pleasure in doing so. In a grown up child – a poet, there is another instinct, helping him to make him a poet – the instinct for harmony and rhythm.

He does not agree with his teacher in – ‘poet’s imitation is twice removed form reality and hence unreal/illusion of truth. To prove his point he compares poetry with history. The poet and the historian differ not by their medium, but the true difference is that the historian relates ‘what has happened?, the poet, what may/ought to have happened?- the ideal. Poetry, therefore, is more philosophical and a higher thing the history, which expresses the particular, while poetry tends to express the universal. Therefore, the picture of poetry pleases all and at all times.

Aristotle does not agree with Plato in function of poetry to make people weaker and emotional/ too sentimental. For him, catharsis is ennobling and humbles human being.

So far as moral nature of poetry is concerned, Aristotle believed that the end of poetry is to please; however, teaching may be given. Such pleasing is superior to the other pleasure because it teaches civic morality. So all good literature gives pleasure, which is not divorced from moral lessons.


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