Esthetics

Esthetics is the theory of art.

This is actually really hard, and I have to admit that I can't make much sense of what has happened at this point. From "something that someone intends to have some emotional or intellectual impact upon the viewer" (i.e. anything anyone makes) to kant's "sublime" (don't ask, or look it up on your own) there is no center.

In the Republic, Plato discusses art to some extent. He discusses it in his theory of education, and in his ideas about censorship. WHile he thinks it "soothes the soul" he also seems to believe that while it is representational it is weak (mere images, no knowledge of form), and if it elicits too much thinking, it is bad (gotta avoid the evil poets and the dirty/politically incorrect ideas they might make you think). Plato disapproved of art because he saw it as appealing to the emotions rather than to reason. He discusses his views on this in Book X.

in The Republic (Books II and X) All art, qua mimesis, is criticised because it is the creation of mere appearances that fall short even of sensible reality, thus twice removed from the transcendent truth of the plane of the Forms posited by Plato's metaphysics. Yet art is insidious because it has the power to bewitch the soul and compel strong and decadent emotions from those whom it affects. On Plato's model of the soul, art is to be analysed as the subversion of the control of reason by the arousal of the passions. Therefore art must be censored because Plato's ideal city could not function in the way he wants if the rational faculties of its citizens were to be so subverted.

The arts appeal to the lower, inferior part of the soul. While susceptibility to illusion is a natural human weakness, imitations are at the furthest remove from objects of knowledge (forms), They also distance us from the faculty by which we come to know those objects (reason). However, Plato is ultimately ambivalent in his attitude to art, not least by the evidence of Plato's own activity as an artist and writer of dialogues which attest to the persuasive power of narrative and imagery.

Iris Murdoch's The Fire and the Sun is a more detailed account of Plato's position which you should read. On the question of justification, we need to consider the relationship between art and ethics. If you believe that art should only exist to make us morally better (as Plato certainly thought) then this would be a justification for censorship. Plato's view was that virtue can only proceed from the understanding, so the glorification of the tragic hero by a poet would not be conducive to moral improvement. The thought that art is at a third removed from the reality of the forms, as Plato's metaphysics suggest, puts Plato's position in hot water in my view. If you don't go along with his metaphysics, it's difficult to maintain his view that art should be censored merely because it doesn't have anything to say about the real world. But morally questioning the value and importance of art is, I think, important for anybody with an interest in aesthetics.
my point here is, we will be discussing other issues in class, esthetics frustrates me too much to be able to introduce the subject competently.

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