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The poet, together with the sophist and the rhetorician, contributes to the creation of that deception by which men are induced to regard the reality which falls under our senses as the only reality. The operations he accomplishes are restricted to the sphere of the perceptible, and he encourages men to find themselves at home in this sphere, by getting pleasure from his beautiful imitations.

These imitations do not offer signs which can lead out of the cave. Only philosophical knowledge can teach us to see these signs and make use of them to obtain the condition of genuine freedom. It is also for this reason, and not only because of their competition for education in the cities, that there is a quarrel between poetry and philosophy. More positively, it can be admitted that the attribution of an idealistic aesthetics to Plato is not arbitrary.

In my exposition I offer a rapid synthesis, without keeping distinct the contributions of ancient authors, especially Proclus, and those of modern authors, especially Tate and Verdenius. On the other hand, it has to be remarked at once that these three are not problematic points that are all centred on one issue, so that the interpreter can establish a convergence on the basis of one theory such as that of idealistic aesthetics.

It is supposed that, at least in particularly favourable cases, poets and other artists can also make recourse to this second sort of imitation, of which Plato does talk in some contexts for instance Tate adduces passages such as Republic V, d, on which see above, ch.

Thus Proclus admitted that this happens in the case of those poets whose inspiration is truly divine, making appeal to the doctrine of the Phaedrus see above, Part II, ch. He is followed on this point by Verdenius Verdenius, op. Now there is a problem discussed above, ch. Proclus and Verdenius with him solves the problem by going against the evidence. It is true that Plato attaches much value to the likeness of a work of art, but this idea should not be interpreted in modern terms.

In true art likeness does not refer to commonplace reality, but the ideal Beauty. I take the passage of the Laws to concern the imitation of someone beautiful in the sense now specified, there being no reference at all to ideas in the context. What remains true, first of all, is that Plato as was suggested above, ch. Republic IV, c, also b , but these are images that are different from the images of virtue eidola aretes of which there is talk in Republic X in connection with painting and with poetry cf.

Secondly, music can be the source of a pleasure that can be evaluated in a positive way, as recognized in Timaeus , 80b also discussed above, in ch. Thirdly, it is a source of this sort of pleasure when the harmonies it realizes are an imitation of the harmonies that are realized at a cosmic level, and especially in the movements of the celestial bodies. These harmonies are clearly an instantiation of certain formal characters that in various dialogues are recognized as constituting the criteria of beauty, such as order, measure and proportion see above, ch.

In the fourth place, the requirement of satisfying these criteria of beauty can be extended even to the products of certain imitative arts like painting, when they are considered independently of what they reproduce, and to other objects that are not produced by the human hand, including the world as a whole. Thus there is a field in which beauty is instantiated without having to fall under the condemnation that is applied to the products of the imitative arts.

Enneads V 9, And there is some justification in giving a positive reply to this question, for the order which is realized by perceptible reality, as described in a work like the Timaeus , clearly depends on an intelligible order. The first is that Plato does not think there is a single idea, like the idea of beauty, which by itself constitutes the intelligible basis for that order, for this could only justify the presence of an identical beauty or whatever in all perceptible things.

The objection by Plotinus that, by reference to the idea of beauty, it is not possible to conceive beauty in terms of symmetry and so forth, for in this way a plurality is involved which beauty excludes, has a justification already from the Platonic point of view and is in fact a development of certain of the objections against the various definitions of beauty that are to be found in the Greater Hippias. It is then not a single idea which constitutes that basis, but the whole ordered world kosmos of ideas, as it is presented in Republic VI, b ff.

It is similarly a whole world, manifestly always the world of ideas, that constitutes the model for the divine artisan who produces the perceptible world according to the account given in the Timaeus cf. So it is sufficient to have an eye for the beauty that manifests itself in perceptible reality in order to be able to do the work of a good painter or a good musician.

And the failure to draw this distinction leads as we have seen to dismissive judgements which concern the imitative arts without reservations. What sort of poetry is to be kept out from the well-governed city cf. When he talks of an ancient quarrel between philosophy and poetry, it would seem that all poetry constitutes his target. The willingness to leave a place in the best city to hymns to the gods and praises of good men cf.

It was classified as particularly mimetic already in book III, in the sense that it directly brings in the speech and action by the persons represented and is not an exposition of facts or a report of words by the poet himself. It is clearly treated in this way in book X. Concerning lyrics in particular, this is mentioned together with epic in Republic X, a, thus it is not wholly ignored.

It is to be rejected in so far as it is imitative. Tragedy is most typical from this point of view, but lyrics need not be excluded. For instance Sappho gives expression to her unhappiness when her love is not returned, as if suffering an injustice, yet she clearly considers herself a virtuous person. It is precisely this discrepancy which Plato does not admit. Tragedy exemplifies it in the fullest way, because it often consists in a story which illustrates a passage from good to bad fortune with good fortune that seems to be deserved and bad fortune not , but, in so far as any other sort of poetry illustrates it, it should be dismissed.

This devaluation in itself is not without ambiguity, for Plato sometimes suggests that the whole of human life must be regarded as a sort of play see below, ch. However awareness of this human condition is limited to the philosopher, who is the only one to possess the antidote pharmakon of knowledge cf. What he adds in what follows, as the greatest accusation against mimetic poetry 33 , is not really different from what has already been said about its effect except in stressing its attractiveness.

On the whole this negative judgement is not far from that already expressed in Protagoras , ca, where discussing poetry was said by Socrates to be similar to the hiring of girl-musicians to entertain at symposia, instead of getting entertainment from their own conversations, as truly noble and educated people would do. This appeal is made in the attempt to save Plato from giving a general and not too persuasive condemnation of imitation, by suggesting instead that what is at issue is only a misconception not shared by him about the nature of imitative poetry.

But the difficulty with this charitably meant explanation is that Plato makes it sufficiently clear that, if certain people have come to adopt this position, it is because they have been deceived exepatentai , e, also d by the poets themselves, being the victims of some sort of spell that has been cast on them by the imitator who acts like a sort of magician goes and who in this way creates the impression of being all-wise cf.

See my discussion of this passage above, ch. So it is not just a matter of rejecting an exaggerated claim by some few people. And if their position were not representative of a widely held view about poetry, why bother to give an ample refutation of it? Recitation and memorization of large parts of the poems of Homer, Hesiod and other poets constituted one main feature, if not the main feature, of traditional education, as it is clear from indications given by Plato himself, by Aristophanes, etc.

This happened, to some extent at least, because there prevailed a didactic view of the function of poetry. One can raise the question whether he is always fair in doing so, but the assumption underlying this procedure, that the poets can be criticized for what they say, for the ideology they propound, cannot be seen as illegitimate against this background. Nothing in what was normally said about the poets and in the use that was made of their poems justifies this further assertion. There are only two passages by ancient authors that can be quoted and are usually quoted by scholars in this connection as offering some support, but they cannot be used without reservations.

This boast is rendered suspicious by the fact that it takes place at a party and that he is not immune from Socratic thought. Partly on the same lines is a passage in Aristophanes It is Frogs , vv. Further, this passage too does not separate competence in the arts from others sorts of knowledge and is to be understood as part of a comedy. But in the end he admits that strictly technical information, e. Overall, this kind of information forms an exercise in general education, not the specifics of skilled performance.

In fact, as already remarked above ch. Homer talks of generalship e. He talks of medicine e. This criticism, it should be noted, is quite different from a criticism concerning certain given contents, such as that concerning the view offered by Homer about the gods. This is a strong claim, but not a repetition of the claim about possession of all the arts. So there is reason to suspect that this other claim is an invention by Plato, even if to some extent he himself may be the victim of a certain lack of distinction between technical and non technical knowledge.

If it turns out that this claim is not implied, and that the poets are not doing anything more than innocuously imitate the parlance and demeanour of generals, doctors, and so forth, the argument misfires. Of course there remain other grounds for criticism, concerning the image that the poets offer of the gods, and so forth, but these cannot be put on the same plane as the general criticism of Republic book X and of the Ion. There also remains the criticism that poets do not know what is just, what is good, and so forth, and this cannot be dismissed as being wholly without substance see on this point next ch.

However I have not met, so far, any persuasive attempt to explain away those assertions by Plato that show him dismissive of poetry. The suggestion put forward in a conversation by Maria Villela-Petit that he is giving an ironical presentation of an account of poetry that is not his own but belongs to the sophists does not seem to have any substantial basis. As I point out in previous parts of this essay, there are passages e. Republic X, d-e, cannot be taken for reasons given above in this sense. It is also surprising that Plato should use concepts drawn from his own philosophy starting with the theory of ideas, even if in a version that cannot be taken quite seriously to expound a position that is not his own.

Something about deception apate obtained by a sort of sorcery can be found in Gorgias, and I myself do think there are points of contact between his position and that adopted by Plato, but nothing in the testimonies suggests that the sophist had an account of mimesis similar to that provided in Republic X. In the case of other sophists there are not even these partial points of contact. Nothing makes one think that such a theory was current at that time. One ground for her suggestion is that Socrates, in Republic X, states that he is willing to retract his criticism if a proper defence of poetry could be given cf.

However, it is difficult to take this concession very seriously, in the light of what precedes it. Even in this passage there is the assertion that it would be impious to betray the truth, which suggests that what precedes is not just a theory about poetry but the truth about it. And the defence which is expected would at best show that poetry is not harmful against what had been claimed before , and would not consist in propounding a new theory of poetry.

In fact the idea that dramatic poetry is imitative continues to be accepted even in the last dialogues, and is accepted by Aristotle as well, and this shows that it is too deeply ingrained to be considered as just one possible theory of poetry. The Aesthetics of Mimesis , cit. His suggestion is not open to the same criticism as that advanced by Osborne, since he is not supposing that what Plato questions is a theory of imitation that was current in his times but admits that the theory is propounded by him.

Why however should he propound a theory that he regards as inadequate and elaborate a whole argument on its basis? Further, it is not easy to get from his works an alternative to a theory which in his eyes should appear to be inadequate Halliwell thinks that a wider conception of mimesis is to be found in the Cratylus , but see discussion above, ch. I have already pointed out that a negative attitude is evident in the Gorgias. What he says of Homer and other poets in Republic II-III has rather disastrous consequences for their poetry, since Plato cannot have been unaware that the works of these poets present some unity, so that one cannot leave out much of what is said about the gods and the heroes and still claim that what remains after all this censure is e.

It is also significant that in book VIII he should say without that this topic be of importance in the context that the poets of tragedy should not be admitted in our polity i. That he sees a connection between poetry and democracy is evident in the Gorgias and in some of the passages of the Republic has already been pointed out, so it can be concluded that the negative judgement about democracy extends to poetry and vice versa. He however, when suggesting that such a strong criticism against poetry has a justification in the existence of an ancient quarrel between philosophy and poetry itself, only gives illustrations of the negative attitude of poets towards philosophers by quoting some statements by them from sources unknown to us 38 , without giving illustrations of the negative attitude of the philosophers against the poets.

No doubt illustrations of this sort would not have been difficult to give one may only think of certain passages in Heraclitus and Xenophanes , and Plato must have thought that it was sufficiently obvious that his criticism of poetry belonged to an existing tradition to need illustrations. Yet the attacks by philosophers like Heraclitus and Xenophanes had, indeed, important poets like Homer and Hesiod as their targets, but need not have reflected a general explicit repudiation of poetry as such or of certain forms of it.

And the same can be said by the attacks by poets against philosophers. There was slander and caricature of certain philosophers on the part of some comic poets, of whom Aristophanes is the best known. So in fact the quarrel is to a large extent a new quarrel between philosophy as understood by Plato and poetry seen as a cultural and political influence that had to be opposed by philosophy.

This common ground can only be constituted at least primarily by ideology. As already suggested above II, ch. The points that are at the centre of the attention in Republic X are those numbered 2 and 3 in the schema offered in that chapter at p. These points as already suggested there are closely connected. One sort of atheism and of impiety that is distinguished there in d ff.

The recognition of the affinity or kinship sungeneia there is between men and gods leads one to honour the gods and to admit their existence, but also to exclude that they can be the cause of bad things cf. One is induced to that sort of impiety by the experience one has of the good fortune, in the private and in the public spheres, of men who are bad and unjust, though in truth aletheia they are not happy, but are made to be happy by current opinion and by poetry that praises them in a way that is not right cf. One is equally induced to that sort of impiety by the consideration of the many particularly impious and horrifying means that are used by some people to raise from a small beginning to the greatest power cf.

In this passage the poets are taken to be encouraging and confirming the common beliefs that circulate about men, who are supposed to fare well through their badness. Giving credit to these beliefs has the consequence that, if one is intellectually honest, one is induced to maintain that the gods keep out of human affairs cf. This passage, one can see, puts together what is represented, e. Or is it a misrepresentation that is proper to tragedy, that is to say which depends on how tragedy works, and from which other forms of poetry may be exempt?

In what follows I start with the first one. How does imitation mimesis work when it is a matter of representing human beings and the condition in which they find themselves in their souls? One can attempt to give an explanation on the basis of the analogy that is exploited by Plato between painting and poetry, making use of indications offered in previous parts especially in ch.

The psychological condition in which the person portrayed finds himself is not a direct object of representation in a painting, but the external appearance of the person his face etc. Similarly the way in which the personage e. If, however, this is the account that Plato tacitly adopts talking in a simplifying way of imitation of the soul as a whole or in its parts the question arises why should imitation be restricted to people who are not really just or virtuous and thus also are not really happy that virtue implies happiness is of course one of the basic theses of the Republic.

It is not only bad traits and strong emotions that have an external manifestation, but also noble traits and moderate emotions that have it, and thus are susceptible to imitation. It was a current view as we have seen above that certain painters imitated men of quality or men who are better than us. Why should not this be applicable to poetry?

It is in fact applied to poetry by Aristotle. Mimesis then must not be restricted to the negative case.

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It is suggested, then, that there are characters which are more susceptible of imitation, because those who are taken by their passions also give them a larger external manifestation than those who are calm, so that for the poet there is more work to do. But the difference is relative, not absolute, and it is admitted that the characters who are calm and stable can also be imitated. This suggestion is accompanied by the further suggestion that when the second sort of character is imitated, it is difficult to find a public who will appreciate the imitation, because for most people this goes beyond their understanding and of course their imagination and, it is understood, the poets want to have success with a large public and for this reason will avoid the imitation of the virtuous person.

This statement belongs to the argument, already discussed above ch. The argument, as we have seen, has a serious weakness in expecting the poet to do something different from imitating. And this also concerns the point made in our passage, for, even if the poet possessed the truth about the virtues, he could not but produce images of virtue, for he would be representing virtuous men who for instance have parts in a drama. Certainly, the argument has a sound basis in so far as it is a matter of drawing attention to the fact that, in order to do their imitations e.

That the imitator, in this case the sophist, need not have knowledge of what his imitation is about is also stated in Sophist , c and d-e. The parallel between these two cases could however give place to a significant difference, for it could be argued that, without having knowledge of virtue, one does not really know who is a virtuous man. To know who is a general, who is a legislator, who is an educator, and so forth, does not give rise to this sort of problem, because they are representatives of activities and skills which are widely recognized socially and about which the possibility to make a mistake is rather limited, though of course there are impostors.

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But there can be impostors because in most cases generals are genuine ones, and so forth. They are the exception rather than the rule. And, in the end, it makes no difference whether the poet imitates a genuine general or an impostor, in so far as the impostor is a good one, who looks very like a genuine general.

To be a virtuous man could be a quite different matter, for it could be maintained that most people, having no effective knowledge of the virtues because they have no effective knowledge of ideas , are not in the condition to distinguish a man who is genuinely virtuous from one who only has the appearance of being virtuous. The argument is particularly open to criticism because his insistence on the analogy between the arts technai and the virtues aretai leads him to treat in the same way cases in which general social recognition is sufficient and imposture is rather exceptional and cases in which it is quite conceivable that the large majority of men be in error.

The discrepancy between appearance and reality, between imposture and genuineness, is rather limited in the case of the arts and can be restricted to a modest number of exceptions. In the case of virtue most of us could be unwitting impostors, believing ourselves to be virtuous men when this is not so.

And the same mistaken belief can be held about other people. Plato, in this matter, seems to have remained a Socratic. This does not need many illustrations, but is sufficiently clear from various passages in these dialogues. In the Gorgias and the Laws there are rather explicit statements to this effect cf. Gorgias bb, Laws II, ff. II, ed. Accepting the appearance instead of reality certainly implies some capacity to make a distinction between the two, but does not imply having a positive and full knowledge of virtue, for if one had this one would never be satisfied with mere appearance.

The appearance consists of course in how one appears to other people or in what reputation one has. II, a-c. Since also in this work it is claimed that the poets do not offer the truth cf. IV, c-d, quoted above, ch. VII, c , it is sufficiently clear that the real poets or at least most of them are supposed to illustrate the contrary situation, in which scoundrels are happy and just persons are unhappy.

Another clear statement to this effect is to be found in X, d-e a passage which probably recalls a , where it is said that the fortunes of unjust people are not only celebrated as happy eudaimonizomenai by general opinion but are wrongly glorified in the language of the Muses.

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The implication is that the poets create and exploit the same sort of error when, of course, they do not just claim but illustrate in their tragedies and other poems a discrepancy between virtue and happiness. Errors of perspective of the same sort, concerning our evaluation of what is pleasant and what is unpleasant, are taken into consideration in Republic IX, where it is let understood that most people are their victims, and that their passions are the consequence of this fact the motif of skiagraphia is introduced there too, cf.

Illusionistic painting using the same word skiagraphia is mentioned in Republic X as well, though not in the context in which painting is considered as a parallel to poetry, because it is introduced to illustrate how the irrational part of the soul is liable to fall into errors of judgment cf. But it is on this irrational part of the soul that poetry is said to exercise its appeal, so that this illustration turns out in fact to be relevant.

But what he does is the expression of a certain ideology. This is an ideology shared by most people, which the poet both accepts and reinforces. His position reflects an ignorance about the nature of the virtues and in general about values, but in his lack of awareness of his condition he is induced to make people believe that the people imitated by him are provided with virtue.

On the other hand he has an understanding of the tragic vision of life, though he rejects it as false, and as a consequence rejects tragedy as an expression of that vision. This is a feature of tragedy which is notoriously stressed by Aristotle but not by Plato himself in the discussion of Republic book X, yet it must be well present in his mind because in his view a plot is enacted when tragedy illustrates the happenings by which a person who appears to be good falls into disgrace, with the effect of rousing feelings of pity and fear in the audience.

We have seen that he alludes to this situation in c and in III, b. In the discussion of Resp. II and III he shows awareness of the fact that in the case of much poetry some story mythos is told. In Resp. X, when he says, in b, that one should disdain a whole poem, he must be alluding to this aspect. The passage quoted in full in ch.

Thus the important recognition it contains that there is no tragedy without conflict risks being deprived of significance. It is of course because they enter into conflict with other persons that certain heroes in a drama fall into disgrace. And this conflict, as is sufficiently clear from the allusions in Philebus 50a-c but also in Republic X, c-d where the contrast, stasis , is extended to the soul of the single individual is supposed to be caused by the fact that in these persons there are passions such as fear, love, jealousy and envy.

In talking about fatality the other aspect of tragedy, i. Concerning this other aspect, it should be noticed that, if Plato suggests in Republic X etc. This is not asserted by Plato in an explicit way, but it is not difficult to get it from some assertions of his touching the point. This same parallel between dramas and human life is implicit in a passage of Republic X to be commented on below, for what is implied is that human life itself, with all that it involves, is just a play like a drama.

But what is asserted in the passage is that not only in dramas but also in the entire tragedy and comedy of life pleasures and pains are mixed. Now the reason why pleasure and pain is mixed in the case of the contemplation of a tragic drama is not the same as that for which there is such a mixture in life. Plato himself there in 48a alludes clearly to the fact that, in tragic spectacles theoreseis , one contemporaneously hama cries and feels pleasure chairein , this being also what is suggested in Republic X see above, I, ch.

In life however this can concern oneself, thus is not an object of contemplation, and even when this concerns other people contemporaneity is excluded, for the pain one feels for oneself or in compassion for another person is not accompanied by pleasure. Thus the continuity between real experience and experience in the theatre, from the point of view adopted in the passage under discussion of remarking the existence of a mixture of pleasure and pain, is only apparent, and Plato must not have been wholly unaware of it.

Poetry, as we have seen, is supposed by Plato to transmit a certain ideology. What the tragedian does is to suggest that a good person - one who on the stage is presented in this way by other people and who himself expresses this conviction about himself - falls undeservedly into disgrace and reacts to this situation giving vent to his pain, thus arousing in us the public our compassion.

Thus he suggests a certain way of looking at the happening he represents on the stage. The alternative interpretation is that the person either deserves his fate, for he is not really as good as he seems to be, or, even if he does not fully deserve his fate, he should show steadfastness, without giving vent to his to some extent unavoidable feelings of pain. If what is represented on the stage were meant to show this, there would be no place any more for compassion, but rather for admiration, but this would not be a tragedy any more.

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One in fact is induced to believe that there are people who are good and fall into disgrace and thus deserve our compassion and if this disgrace is caused by some person, there is also indignation for what is happening. But their goodness may be just appearance. And even if they fall undeservedly into disgrace, they should give proof of steadfastness. Hence there is no place for tragedy in real life either. He does not want to dispute the fact that tragedy at least good tragedy offers a realistic picture of human life, for he himself on occasion points out the existence of conflicts among men.

Republic IX, b , and the true philosopher cannot be in conflict either with himself or with other people because he contemplates a realm of being where conflict is excluded cf. Republic VI, b-c. Fatality is touched upon in the final myth of Republic and elsewhere, by pointing out that certain choices by men may indeed have consequences that are irremediable and in this sense fatal, but the choices themselves are not fatal. That the image given of the gods not only in drama but in much other poetry as well is false is something that Plato notoriously tries to show in books II and III of the Republic , where the polemic against poetry has also the intent of offering a proper image of the gods and of their action, by exclusion of their being a source of ills for men see above, II, ch.

Elsewhere he treats the Oedipus of Sophocles and similar heroes of tragedies as fools who follow the appearances [cf. Dissertationes I 28, ]. Tragedy gives the false impression that it is people who are good and virtuous who fall into disgrace and adds the suggestion of inevitability to this picture, when in fact much of what is negative that happens in this world is deserved by men who bring on them their disgraces by their actions.

In so far as there is what seems to be an undeniable disproportion between what certain not fully vicious men do and what happens to them or what seems to be an undeniable success with some men that are vicious, it should be recognized that we adopt an inadequate point of view. This point is developed in the Laws into the suggestion that we are the playthings of gods or their puppets 43 and that we should, in awareness of this, play in the best way the part that is given to each of us to play. This idea of having to play a part in a play appears in some form also in Republic X, where it is suggested that the attitude we should have in the face of what happens to us in the various circumstances of life should be similar to that of a player who throws dice cf.

This view again finds a development in the Laws , where the suggestion is advanced that we ourselves are a sort of pawn in a game of petteia that includes the whole world. What we should recognize is that we are parts of this larger whole in which we play a role and that each part of the whole is ordered in view of the whole, not of each of its parts. This arrangement has also a providential character, for in the end virtue prevails on vice, by a proper distribution of the souls cf. X, b ff.

And it is equally to be remarked that even in the passage of Laws no recourse is made to the metaphor of drama or the theatre. This is a metaphor which had a rather wide circulation in philosophy subsequent to Plato, with variations on the motif that each of us is an actor who has to play a part evidently together with other actors in a drama in which each part is assigned by a dramaturge who is made to coincide with chance or with divinity The absence of this metaphor in Plato is probably to be explained, in part, with his failure to conceive drama as the interaction between different personages.

Philosophy, on the other hand, as is already suggested in Republic VI, a-b, enables us to reach a point of view which consists in the contemplation of all time and existence and which includes both things human and things divine. He who comes to adopt this point of view recognizes that the life of man cannot be a thing of great importance, and will thus learn to despise death and all the ills that can happen to anyone of us.

But the purely human point of view which the philosopher is expected to overcome is precisely the one that is adopted by the poet who composes tragedies. It is, we have seen, the point of view which leads to the representation of conflicts among men that are motivated by their passions, such conflicts being nothing more than the fighting about shadows that is illustrated by the allegory of the cave.

Guo , 2: 79; cf. This dialectic between being and no-being was later taken up in a different form through Buddhist debates about emptiness, and it can be considered one of the central metaphysical problems throughout the Chinese philosophical tradition. If we take no-being as indeterminacy, then the problem of a first cause is not getting many from one nor getting something from nothing but rather how differentiation emerges from the undifferentiated.

Ziran excludes appeals to purpose, deliberation or design, and the rise of the term paralleled a displacement of heaven by terms such as dao. The role of ziran self-so is similar to the role of causa sui self-caused in European philosophy. While classical European metaphysics attempts to isolate self-causality in a transcendent God, the Chinese took it as the very nature of existence. Two important points follow. It is sometimes said that Chinese philosophy lacks ontology and thus metaphysics because philosophers were never concerned with being as such.

It is more accurate to say that Chinese philosophers took dynamic organization as implicit in the very nature of being, rather than positing an external source for motion and order. This means that ontology is also cosmology, even biology. Second, if spontaneous generation is the very nature of being, then one can legitimately attribute ziran to the ultimate or to things themselves. This immanence contrasts with the common division between God as self-caused and everything else as caused by God, a view which ultimately sees being as divided into two fundamentally different kinds. In employing a univocal conception of being as sheng , Chinese philosophies did not segregate self-generation from the world.

The third common point is that the ultimate is immanent in the world. Verbs in classical Chinese are not modified for tense, and this introduces a fundamental ambiguity into all of these cosmogonies—while they can be read as describing something that happened in the past, they can just as well describe an ongoing process in which the generative function is always present.

In one passage, Zhuangzi is asked where dao is and he replies that there is no place from which dao is absent. Pushed to give an example, he says dao is in ants and crickets. When asked to go lower, Zhuangzi says dao is in weeds, broken tiles, and even in piss and dung Guo , ; cf. The immanence of the source is demonstrated most of all by the fact that it remains accessible to cultivated people.

In the Laozi , dao is something one can use in the world:. Dao is constantly without name. Although in its unhewn simplicity it is minute, heaven and earth do not dare subordinate it. If princes and kings can preserve it, the ten thousand things will make themselves their guests. Ch It is difficult to find the right language to describe the relationship between dao and human beings. The dao is not external, so it is not a matter of getting or reaching it, and it is not an object that could be grasped.

Since the self-so spontaneity to which dao refers is always present, what is required is a negative process of removing obstacles. Ziran is what remains if we free ourselves from striving and conventional goals. All of the cosmogonies posit stages between the ultimate and the concrete myriad things of the world. If the ultimate ground of things is immanent rather than teleological, then concrete things must be explained through a gradual process of spontaneous differentiation. Having a series of stages also allows for degrees of differentiation within a connected whole.

That provides an explanation not just for the concrete myriad things, but also for nature as a system.

The most common stage involves interaction between two forces. For an authoritative study of yin and yang , see Wang Yang originally referred to the south side of a mountain, which received the sun, while yin referred to the north side. Ultimately, yang was associated with the masculine, the forceful, and the bright, while yin was associated with the feminine, the yielding, and the obscure.

Creativity followed from the interaction of yin and yang , analogous to sexual reproduction. All of the cosmogonies include cycles and processes of return. One prominent model was the four seasons. The change of seasons places cycles of growth and decay into a broader context of continuous vitality. The change of seasons itself, though, was seen as expressing a more fundamental cycle between poles such as yin and yang. Another version of this cycling between poles was the claim that when processes reach an extreme, they reverse.

Yet another manifestation is that things emerge from a common source and ultimately return to that source. In all of these cases, cyclicality explains the sustainability and predictability of natural patterns. No pre-Buddhist Chinese philosophers claimed that the qualitatively differentiated world we experience is an illusion, but their monistic metaphysics privileged connectedness and unity.

While patterns of differentiation may be objective, individuation i. It is always possible to view all things as forming one whole or one body, and this unity tends toward equalizing things. From our contextual point of view, one thing can be said to be better, bigger, or more beautiful than another, but from a broader perspective all things have the same status as parts of a single body. This could lead toward skepticism of absolute values as in the Zhuangzi or toward an imperative to care for all things. Hui Shi c. This can be seen as a radicalization of the Mohist claim that heaven generates all human beings and thus cares for them all equally, a point rooted in the early Zhou view of heaven as protecting the people.

The harmony of yinyang does not grow just one type. Sweet dew and timely rain are not partial to one thing. The birth of the myriad peoples does not favor one person. The level of impartiality attributed to Laozi eliminates the possibility of loss, leading to equanimity. As the reference to Kongzi suggests, this tendency toward inclusivity threatened the humanistic ethics of the Confucians.

Their main response addressed a gap in the cosmogonies exemplified by the Laozi. These explained the dynamism inherent in particular things and the broader patterns of nature, but they did not address the differences between kinds of things—what makes human beings differ consistently from dogs? One of the key questions debated by the Confucians was the degree to which ethical concerns like care, respect, and shame were embedded in these natural spontaneous affects.

Xing became a foundation for theories of motivation but its roots are in metaphysics. Xing moves from the generic creativity or vitality of nature to the specific life processes of kinds of things. More concretely, xing was conceptualized as the dynamic flow of qi vital energy. Although all human beings have xing , the heart lacks a stable resolve. It awaits things and then stirs, awaits being pleased and then acts, awaits practice and then stabilizes. Their appearing on the outside is because things stimulate them. Xing comes out from what is allotted ming and what is allotted comes down from heaven tian.

Liu Zhao strips 1—3. It was originally taken as one of several kinds of stuff, connected with air and breath, but it eventually became the dominant label for the basic stuff of the world, used to explain all kinds of dynamic processes, from the formation of heaven and earth to the patterns of weather to the processes of the human heart.

In this passage, human affects including desires and a tendency to approve or disapprove are the movement of this qi when stimulated by events in the world. This is part of the Confucian response to the focus on wuwei and reducing desires in texts like the Laozi and Zhuangzi —affects like sorrow and care arise spontaneously, by ziran. They are as natural for human beings as it is for water to flow downward or for trees to grow toward the sun.

It may seem that this topic has drifted from metaphysics into ethics, but human actions are not different in kind from the movements of other things in the world, and human motivation expresses the tendency toward growth inherent in the very nature of existence. The use of xing and ziran in relation to motivation differs from the concerns around free will in almost every way, but both arise as ways of explaining how human choices relate to the forces driving change in the rest of the natural world, or even how human choices relate to the very nature of being. In this way, both issues unite metaphysics and ethics.

Beyond its role in explaining motivation, xing helps explain the organization of the world into individuals and kinds. In a series of passages arguing with a rival named Gaozi, Mengzi shows that whatever would explain the natures of things must have its own dynamism and directionality, and it must explain the specific differences between kinds of things 6A1—3. On the one side, xing differentiates things in terms of coherent patterns of force, providing a contextual and provisional basis for individuation. One can refer to the xing of a human being but also the xing of the human mouth 6A7 , to the xing of a mountain ecosystem 6A8 or the xing of a single tree 6A1.

On the other side, xing was generally used as a species concept—things of the same kind have the same xing. The status of species, though, was a point of controversy, linked to the question of whether or not all human beings could be held to the same standards. A more radical line of thought took each individual as having its own unique xing , a view rooted in parts of the Zhuangzi and developed later by Guo Xiang?

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Near the end of the Warring States Period, new assumptions about cosmology and metaphysics appeared that dominated the Han dynasty and profoundly influenced the development of Chinese thought. Things of the same kind summon each other, those with the same vital energy join together, and sounds that match resonate. Thus if you strum a gong note other gong will resonate; if you strum a jue note other jue will vibrate. Use a dragon to bring rain; use the form to move the shadow. The masses of people think that fortune and misfortune come from fate [ ming ]. How could they know from where they truly come!

Another of the most common categories were wood, earth, fire, air, and metal, known as the five phases wuxing. Yet another set were based on the Yi Jing , using either the eight trigrams or sixty-four hexagrams. These systems of categorization were eventually integrated, so that categories from one could be translated into the others. Given the underlying ontology of change and process, categorization is not based on inherent qualities or essences but on typical ways of acting and reacting—does it tend to expand or contract, work gradually or swiftly, manifest itself obviously or subtly?

The application of the categories depends on context and the context depends on our particular purposes, but they are meant to express real properties of things. Consider the use of the most general categories, yin and yang. Yang labels the tendency to expand and dominate; yin labels the tendency to draw things in by yielding.

Anything can be put in one of these two categories, but yin and yang are not inherent properties. The same thing that might be active and dominating in one relationship might be softer and yielding in another as is commonly the case in Chinese medicine. The function of the labels can be compared to the way we label cause and effect. We can designate a cause and an effect in any change, but being a cause is not an essential property. Everything is simultaneously the cause of many effects and the effect of many causes.


As cause and effect illustrate, even a set of binary categories can be helpful in analyzing situations, and yinyang could be specified in various ways. In the Yi Jing , lines representing either yin a divided line or yang a straight line can be combined into groups of three to form eight trigrams, or groups of six to form 64 categories. Each of these lines could be taken as more or less stable, leading to possible situations.

This way of approaching causality reflects the fact that existence is inherently active and dynamic: an effect is never purely passive or inert, and a cause works with the tendencies of the thing affected. The effects of a stimulus depend on the receptive and responsive capacities of the thing stimulated. One common model for ganying was resonance, as in the quotation above where the vibrations of one string stimulate vibrations in strings tuned to the same note. The final element is the role of correlations. To place phenomena in the same category is to situate them as having similar functions in analogous configurations.

To be yin is to have a relationship to something that is yang , to be wood-like is to stand in certain relationships to fire, metal, earth, and air. This way of categorizing allows correlations across what would seem to be very different kinds of things. For example, an illness that is yang expansive or overactive can be treated with foods that are yin receptive or calming. These correlations were based on empirical observations, but as the categories were integrated and extended to all phenomena, the connections become less and less apparent, sometimes seeming forced and arbitrary.

These are essentially rules for sustainability. The model that dominated modern European thinking about causality—linear causality through collision on the model of billiard balls —was not central to Chinese reflections on causality as it was not central in Europe before the late Renaissance. For Chinese philosophers, the paradigms for causality were things like the effects of music over a distance, the relationship between spring and the growth of plants, and the influence between a teacher and student. This orientation followed from belief that all things are interconnected and are ultimately composed of the same stuff, qi.

It also reflected practical concerns—How does culture work so that people can live together harmoniously? How do we relate to nature in a way that is sustainable? Approaching causality from this direction, though, is notoriously difficult. Han dynasty philosophers were basically starting from what we might now call ecological thinking or theories of complexity. Correlative cosmology posited a tightly ordered universe whose patterns could be grasped and mastered. Nothing happens without a cause, and the system of causes can be known and controlled.

This view placed human beings in control of their fates. The elevation of human power appears in the way the system of correlations provided a metaphysical foundation for what would seem to be human constructs. This correlation made the use of violence a necessary and natural principle, while also restricting it to certain times.

In this text, yin and yang remain complementary but shift from equal forces driving generation to markers for hierarchical positions in a system of correlated arrangements Wang To give just one example:. The righteous [relationships] between ruler and minister, husband and wife, and father and son all derive from the Way of yin and yang. The ruler is yang; the minister is yin. The father is yang; the son is yin.

The husband is yang; the wife is yin. There are no places where the Way of yin circulates alone.

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At the beginning [of the yearly cycle], yin is not permitted to arise by itself. This cosmology ends up doing much of the work that was done by anthropomorphism in the European tradition. In both cases, human culture is seen as mirroring structures at the foundation of the natural world. In the case of Europe, that foundation is seen as human-like in that we are made in the image of God, thus anthropomorphizing nature. In Chinese correlative cosmology, the opposite occurs, where specifically human phenomena are theorized as natural.

In both cases, social and political hierarchies are given a metaphysical basis. Han dynasty philosophy could still be quite critical. The elevation of yang over yin in the Chunqiu fanlu is partly driven by a desire to minimize state violence, which it correlates with yin. The Huainanzi emphasizes the inherent tendency of being toward diversification. Correlative influences generate a world that is too complex to grasp or master; politically, that leads toward an argument for decentralization, minimal state power, and the value of diversity.

This argument is grounded in metaphysics. Wang Chong explicitly argues against beliefs that the world is ordered according to anything like a human design, claiming instead that everything arises spontaneously, by ziran see McLeod The Han dynasty collapsed in CE, leading to a long period of fragmentation, instability, and uncertainty.

This fictional conquistador's interest in indigenous rituals ultimately leads him to become as heavily invested in the sacred as in the violent. As we will see in the following, in Aridjis's novel, the ambiguity of colonial desire serves as a defense mechanism to counterbalance the conquistador's attraction to native cults. The conquest has more often been analyzed in terms of economic factors and religious justifications, and the wars of conquest debated as being either just or unjust. The violence involved may be seen as gratuitous and the conquistadors as vicious and greedy, but the concept of anger simply does not fit into these equations, since it vaguely suggests the absurd notion of the conquest as retribution against the Amerindians.

The theme of the conquistador's anger and violence, alluded to in the poem attributed to him in the epigraph, is highlighted in the novel's narration of the conquest of Mexico and in its later focus on early colonial Mexico City. Although the reader might overlook this secondary character at first, he becomes increasingly more important as the conquest of Mexico continues. Although Moctezuma has sent Word to the Spaniards not to proceed in the direction of Tenochtitlan, offering a variety of excuses explaining why they should remain on the outskirts of the empire where he will send them tribute, the conquistadors nevertheless continue to advance toward the imperial capital.

Now accompanied by their allies the Cempoalans and Tlaxcalans, the Spaniards march on Cholula, where events unfold that will ultimately serve as a turning point in the conquest of Mexico. In his absence, violence erupts in the capital, leading to the massacre at the Templo Mayor. Colonial desire is evident in Aridjis's representation of the conquest of Tenochtitlan, where violence is combined with passionate longing to possess this exotic capital.

This conquistador appears to receive some kind of sadistic pleasure from penetrating the Mesoamerican Other with his lance. Before they have even glimpsed the Mesoamericans, the conquistadors imagine that they will be received as gods:. In the above citation, several themes are introduced. First, the conquistadors, before even seeing the Mexican natives, imagine that they will consider the Spaniards to be gods. Secondly, the dialogue leads directly from the topic of religion to the topic of killing. Here again we see a conflation of love and hate characteristic of Young's theory of colonial desire.

Aridjis calls critical attention to evangelization as a mere pretext for conquest -in both the flag's slogan and the dialogue, the transition from the topic of religion to that of conquest is seamless.


Yo os absuelvo. Rather than an attraction to the divine in general, in line with Young's theory of colonial desire, what seems to attract the conquistador to native rituals is their otherness. The representation of the sacred is woven subtly into the narration of the section of Memorias recounting the conquest of Mexico, its pages peppered with references to native religious practices, including human sacrifice and ritual cannibalism.

On several occasions, Moctezuma sends sorcerers to bewitch the Spaniards in his effort to dissuade them from marching on Tenochtitlan. In general, the conquistadors interact with these gods, priests and sorcerers as if they were merely human, while at the same time they manipulate to their strategic advantage the indigenous perception that the Spaniards are gods.

As the two enter temples and witness a human sacrifice, it is clear that both have a passing comprehension of native religion and rituals, at least enough to understand what is going on around them. The Spaniards generally considered Christianity to be the only true religion, while they categorized indigenous rites as idolatry and superstition. One of the apparitions whom these two undercover conquistadors encounter in the temple is a priestly vision whose mouth smells of blood and centuries of death.

His face is described contradictorily as appearing youthful yet also old and withered, as if youth and age were warring inside him. He is tall and thin, with long hair and beard and a loud voice, although he is reserved and sparing in words. When his mother died, the young Gonzalo sold her inn for a few gold coins, the clothes of an hidalgo and a mule, and set off for the New World.

It is evident that this interest is initially motivated by greed. Thus to some extent, the conquistador does recognize the value of the indigenous relics, if only on an economic level. His ignorance of the meaning of the artifacts he uncovers will not last long, as soon the conquistador will become irrevocably invested in the spiritual significance of the idols he plunders. He who has the courage to wear it, says the otherworldly guide, will have the magical power to locate treasure, will be able to walk through walls and be transported through telekinesis, will be able to attract all the women he lusts after, and will be resistant to disease and seven deaths.

His reaction to his surroundings is filled with terror, but in spite of his awe he is not intimidated to the extent of ceasing his pillaging. His reverence, however, is demonstrated in the fact that he believes in the power of the mask. The conquistador will soon have no choice but to unequivocally respect indigenous rituals, since he will form part of them, as his flirtation with the sacred becomes a permanent engagement.

The conquistador's reaction is a mixture of repulsion toward the images of death that surround him and attraction toward the gold that he idolizes:. As the conquistador's attraction increases, so does his repulsion. To accede to his lust for gold and pursue the mask is to embrace his own mortality. Mictlantecuhtli offers to let him keep the mask if he will only put it on, while his female consort, the mistress of Mictlan, reminds him that he already agreed to wear the mask.

The seduction is consummated when the mask magically floats in the air and adheres to the conquistador's face. As this happens, he feels his lips sealed but hears his own voice entreating that he to be allowed to don the mask.