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The Fire and the Sun: Why Plato Banished the Artists

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Based on the Romanes lectures by iris Murdoch


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Based on the Romanes lectures by iris Murdoch

30 review for The Fire and the Sun: Why Plato Banished the Artists

  1. 4 out of 5

    Manny

    This is a delightful book, which somehow manages to be both imposingly erudite (there are Greek phrases on every page) and at the same time light and witty; I constantly found myself wanting to write down quotations. Murdoch seems to know everything about Plato, and skips around in the dialogues and the vast critical literature as easily as a Tolkien nerd quotes passages from The Lord of the Rings. It's impressive and also very enjoyable to see someone tackle such a difficult subject with this g This is a delightful book, which somehow manages to be both imposingly erudite (there are Greek phrases on every page) and at the same time light and witty; I constantly found myself wanting to write down quotations. Murdoch seems to know everything about Plato, and skips around in the dialogues and the vast critical literature as easily as a Tolkien nerd quotes passages from The Lord of the Rings. It's impressive and also very enjoyable to see someone tackle such a difficult subject with this grace and assurance. A pity that so few academics can do it. The central theme, as the title suggests, is Plato's attitude to art and artists: why did he regard them as undesirable, to the point where he wished to censor or banish them from his imagined utopias? It would be presumptuous of me to try to summarize Murdoch's answer; partly because she uses this as the starting point for a discussion of Plato's entire philosophy, partly because she examines both sides of the question (in the end, my impression was that she decided she didn't agree with him), but mostly because the issues are extremely complicated, and I'm not at all sure I understood them properly. Very roughly, artists are too wrapped up in semblances and illusions. In Plato's myth, they tempt us to stay by the Fire in the Cave, and not venture outside to see the Sun in the real world; but I don't feel confident about my ability to develop this line of reasoning further. The best way I can find to give you some idea of what the book is about is to mention some of the other thinkers that Murdoch contrasts Plato with. Aristotle of course, but he actually gets little screen time. Murdoch sees the core of Plato's thought as being about the mystical journey of the Self towards the Good, which is also the True, and Aristotle is generally more practical than that. She spends quite a lot of time talking about the Divine Comedy, which she views almost as a dramatization of Plato. She refers frequently to Kant, who (I think) she considers as addressing the same problems, though in a completely different way. But the one which really surprised me was Freud. It had never even crossed my mind to relate Freud and Plato, but she makes it sound utterly plausible and repeatedly suggests connections. Well, I see I must reread several books from this new perspective. Damn, Iris Murdoch was a seriously gifted person. I can't understand why The Fire and the Sun is so obscure; not one of my nearly four thousand Goodreads friends has read it. If you like imaginative, wide-ranging discussions of philosophy and literature, order a copy now. It's only a hundred pages long, but you'll feel measurably more intelligent when you've finished.

  2. 5 out of 5

    robin friedman

    Plato And The Poets Iris Murdoch (1919 -- 1999) was educated as a philosopher and taught philosophy at Oxford from 1948 -- 1963. In her high regard for Plato, and in her struggles with him, Murdoch was somewhat out of step with the leading trends in philosophy of her day in Britain and the United States and on the Continent as well. Murdoch's difficult relation to Plato may be seen in this short, dense book "The Fire and the Sun: Why Plato Banished the Artists". Published in 1977, the book is out Plato And The Poets Iris Murdoch (1919 -- 1999) was educated as a philosopher and taught philosophy at Oxford from 1948 -- 1963. In her high regard for Plato, and in her struggles with him, Murdoch was somewhat out of step with the leading trends in philosophy of her day in Britain and the United States and on the Continent as well. Murdoch's difficult relation to Plato may be seen in this short, dense book "The Fire and the Sun: Why Plato Banished the Artists". Published in 1977, the book is out of print but available in a compilation of Murdoch's philosophical writings. I have the original book, not the compilation, and there is much in it to discuss. The book is based on the Romanes Lecture Murdock gave at Oxford in 1976. Founded in 1892, the Romanes Lectures are a series of free public lectures on a variety of subjects in science, art, or literature which aim to appeal to lay people as well as to scholars. In her lecture, Murdoch tried to explain Plato's views of art and artists, to understand the reasons Plato gave for his views, and to try to respond to them. The theme of the book derives from the title "The Fire and the Sun", a figure which in turn derives from Plato's allegory of the cave in Book VII of the Republic. In his allegory, Plato, pictures a group of people chained deep inside a dark cave facing a wall. With their chains, they can barely turn their heads. There are images on the wall of the cave that can be seen because they are illuminated by a fire in the back. The people looking at the passing images think they are real -- and that they exhaust reality -- because they don't see or know anything else. Outside the cave and barely visible from inside is the sun. With their chains and perspective of shadows, those in the cave have little conception of the sun and of reality outside the cave. It is the task of wisdom, for Plato, to free people from their attachment to the images on the wall, from their own partial and misshapen perceptions, to work their way from the cave and its fire, and to understand the sun and reality rather than their own images. Plato remains a complex, elusive thinker and his philosophy may not be of a single piece. In much of his work, Plato evidences skepticism if not outright hostility towards much poetry and art which, in Plato's Greece, remains some of the greatest that has been produced. Murdoch tries to explain why. Broadly speaking, Plato criticizes artists for taking the easy, unenlighted, egotistical way out. Artists produce images and imitations, for Plato. These images derive from the shadows on the cave illuminated by the fire. Their products are even more removed from reality that the illuminations seen by the people chained to look at the wall. Artists mislead and seduce by portraying images of images without the requisite enlightenment and training to see things as they are. Much of Murdoch's study elaborates this criticism as she moves through Plato's changing views of the nature of reality, his theory of Forms, as it develops and is qualified in his later works such as the "Philebus" "Parmenides", "Sophist", "Timaeus", and "Laws". It is always rewarding for me to be reminded of these writings. As Plato's thought deepened, it move somewhat away from a sharp divide between the abstract world of the form and the barren images on the wall. In "Sophist" and "Timaeus" in particular, Plato saw that there was interpenetration in reality. The sharp divide between image and reality suggested in the Cave allegory and in earlier dialogues is only part of the story. Much modern philosophy rejects Plato and Platonizing, but Murdoch sees the force of Plato's criticism of art because she shares some of his underlying beliefs. She sees the purpose of thought and of philosophy as a movement beyond egoism and selfishness and grasping towards reality. And she shares in broad outline Plato's vague portrayal of a transcendent good to be contemplated and brought to bear in human life. She does not do so in any Christian or Western religious way. Her view is more akin to Plato's pagan view, or to that of Eastern religion from which she also learned much. Thus, Murdoch is able to present Plato's criticism of art with force, finding that it is of "a fundamentally religious nature." (p. 65) In the final pages of the book, Murdoch tries to respond to Plato on his, and her, own terms. The world of the forms and of transcendent reality is mixed in a way difficult to explain with the world of images. Art, in common with every human endeavor, is a mixture of the two. High art is directed to the good and to the transcendent and in taking the viewer, hearer, outside of the binds of ego and illusion. It is a short cut, perhaps, but one democratically open to all. When illuminating goodness and reality it is valuable. Murdoch's portrayal of a Platonically valuable art too adopts a philosophical basis that is not entirely contemporary. This can be thoughtful and valuable. It is interesting to read Murdock's novels, such as "The Sea The Sea" with an understanding of her philosophical perspectives and her conflicted relationship to Plato and to claims for a transcendent reality. This book is short, difficult, and includes many insightful parallels to thinkers such as Freud and Kant in addition to its exploration of Plato's writing. I enjoyed revisiting this book and thinking about Plato. Robin Friedman

  3. 4 out of 5

    Christina “6 word reviewer” Lake

    Delicious book, perversely out of print.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Eddie Clarke

    Three stars because lots of this went over my head (My fault, not the book’s). This is Iris in full university philosopher mode. I was attracted because of the irony of an artist philosopher considering the artful philosopher Plato’s banning of artists; it’s short (based on a series of lectures Murdoch gave in 1976); and I was keen to pay due homage to her philosophical work as well as her creative writing in the 100th anniversary of her birth (as I write her centenary was yesterday). Some juicy Three stars because lots of this went over my head (My fault, not the book’s). This is Iris in full university philosopher mode. I was attracted because of the irony of an artist philosopher considering the artful philosopher Plato’s banning of artists; it’s short (based on a series of lectures Murdoch gave in 1976); and I was keen to pay due homage to her philosophical work as well as her creative writing in the 100th anniversary of her birth (as I write her centenary was yesterday). Some juicy quotes towards the end on what la Murdoch considers art to be. She also affectionately probes Plato’s outrageous authoritarianism and shows just how self-consciously vexed he was by his own artfulness.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Rocío G.

    Wonderful! A powerful (and thorough) appraisal of the "ancient quarrell" between philosophy and literature from the unique point of view of a master of both disciplines. “Art, especially literature, is a great hall of reflection where we can all meet and where everything under the sun can be examined and considered. For this reason it is feared an attacked by dictators, and by authoritarian moralists such as the one under discussion.” Wonderful! A powerful (and thorough) appraisal of the "ancient quarrell" between philosophy and literature from the unique point of view of a master of both disciplines. “Art, especially literature, is a great hall of reflection where we can all meet and where everything under the sun can be examined and considered. For this reason it is feared an attacked by dictators, and by authoritarian moralists such as the one under discussion.”

  6. 5 out of 5

    I-kai

    Packs quite a punch in just 89 pages. Murdoch's argument, boiled down to its essential and very crudely put, is that Plato needs morality (goodness) and intelligibility (truth) to be transcendent; art always fosters the illusion of their immanence (the work of beauty); therefore it tends to distort or demote the ideal of our spiritual perfection. Her defense of art against Plato, which occurs in the last several pages, if I am not mistaken, is that the highest art investigates what she calls "nec Packs quite a punch in just 89 pages. Murdoch's argument, boiled down to its essential and very crudely put, is that Plato needs morality (goodness) and intelligibility (truth) to be transcendent; art always fosters the illusion of their immanence (the work of beauty); therefore it tends to distort or demote the ideal of our spiritual perfection. Her defense of art against Plato, which occurs in the last several pages, if I am not mistaken, is that the highest art investigates what she calls "necessity," that is, the inevitable and unavoidable circumstances in which humans find themselves in their struggle to become human and retain and not lose their humanity. The revelation of these forces, the mysterious workings of fate, shows that art does serve the function of truth, but not truth about the good, but the truth of the powers and varieties of real evils. And Plato by his own demands cannot be blind to these evils or simplify them as he tends to, because he demands that "virtue is knowledge" or at least that true virtue must be based on self-knowledge, which includes one's awareness of oneself and the world one lives in. Such self-knowledge is acquired from the best works of art. Kind of a shame that this book is OOP.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Francisca

    En este libro publicado por la editorial Siruela se recogen una serie de conferencias que Iris Murdoch dictó en Oxford en 1976 y en las que se nos exponen las ideas platónicas de la belleza. Murdoch nos expone la teoría de las ideas de Platón y cómo ésta ya estaba en nosotros antes de nacer, así como la idea de Bien, que representa el sol y el fuego dentro de la caverna, a la que Murdoch hace referencia en el título del libro. Aquella explica las ideas representadas a las que nos hallamos someti En este libro publicado por la editorial Siruela se recogen una serie de conferencias que Iris Murdoch dictó en Oxford en 1976 y en las que se nos exponen las ideas platónicas de la belleza. Murdoch nos expone la teoría de las ideas de Platón y cómo ésta ya estaba en nosotros antes de nacer, así como la idea de Bien, que representa el sol y el fuego dentro de la caverna, a la que Murdoch hace referencia en el título del libro. Aquella explica las ideas representadas a las que nos hallamos sometidos y que todo conocedor de este mito, el cual se basa en que es realmente fuera de la caverna donde hallamos la verdad, es adonde debemos remitirnos para así encontrar la profunda verdad y llevar a nuestros compañeros de la caverna la sabiduría y el conocimiento. Platón considera la belleza como algo principal en su filosofía, pero aquí toma a los artistas como personas de una doble moralidad que no precisamente toman a la belleza como filosofía en su hacer. Así, Murdoch extrae a través de sus escritos las ideas sobre el arte que Platón escribiría en prácticamente casi todas sus obras. Cuando se reflexiona sobre el arte nunca estamos ante algo fácil, como podría parecer a simple vista cuando nos hallamos ante una obra que por su estética es pura y nos transmite emoción, sino que hay que tener en consideración la separación del aspecto estético de lo no estético. Murdoch compara la concepción del arte entre Platón, Tolstoi y Kant, haciéndonos ver así las diferencias y contrastes que la estética nos ofrece. De este modo, se nos presentan unos ensayos rigurosos sobre Platón y también sobre otros filósofos que nos enseñan cómo ahonda en el arte y los artistas para así sacar aprendizajes e ideas que nos llevan a la verdad, al conocimiento y al desconocimiento. Los textos de Platón están plagados de referencias a la belleza, y Murdoch hace acopio de ellas para ilustrarnos de una manera esclarecedora al respecto. En La República, por ejemplo, Platón dice que el artista hace que lo mejor del alma afloje la vigilancia; podría decirse que lo que produce el artista son imágenes errantes. Murdoch también hace acopio de las ideas de Platón en este aspecto, la reminiscencia, la anámnesis, es algo que tenemos desde antes de nacer y es algo que olvidamos al venir aquí. Murdoch expone esta idea haciéndonos partícipes de que debemos ahondar en lo que creamos para así volver a lo ya creado, lo ya indicado en nuestra alma que estaba predispuesto a hacerse. Para Platón, el arte carece de disciplina, y la verdad en él es muy difícil de valorar críticamente. La belleza es algo demasiado importante como para dejarla en manos de artistas. En sus palabras, la naturaleza nos educa, el arte no. Para este filósofo, el arte es sólo una parte creada por la parte inferior del alma, y es la belleza la que nos da una imagen inmediata del deseo bueno, del deseo de bondad y del deseo de verdad. Según Platón, la actividad a la que se debería dedicar el artista es a la de discernir, enfatizar y extender la armonía de la creación divina, y según él, esto sólo se da en la música. En resumen y haciendo una vista subjetiva más que objetiva entre las diversas teorías de Platón, de Murdoch y de los demás autores que conforman este libro, el amor a la belleza y el deseo de crear nos inspiran actividades que incrementan nuestro conocimiento y entendimiento de lo real. Y este amor es un amor espiritual, donde el arte debiera y hubiera de ser algo sagrado.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Rose

    I love that she writes with clarity. She explains where she got her impressions of the things she's talking about from, so you can understand her point of view and trace it back to the source. I love that she writes with clarity. She explains where she got her impressions of the things she's talking about from, so you can understand her point of view and trace it back to the source.

  9. 4 out of 5

    John Cairns

    'Words lead to deeds and we ought not to brutalize our minds by abusing and mocking other people.' I don't like making a fool of other people nor their being made fools of but I do use irony a lot and have found people amusing while keeping a straight face. "Are you laughing at me?" Mum asked. "I'm not laughing, Mum." I certainly don't abuse other people but one has to be able to defend oneself against abuse or others' absurdity. A laugh can clear their minds because it makes them see from anoth 'Words lead to deeds and we ought not to brutalize our minds by abusing and mocking other people.' I don't like making a fool of other people nor their being made fools of but I do use irony a lot and have found people amusing while keeping a straight face. "Are you laughing at me?" Mum asked. "I'm not laughing, Mum." I certainly don't abuse other people but one has to be able to defend oneself against abuse or others' absurdity. A laugh can clear their minds because it makes them see from another perspective. ‘There is something anti-authoritarian about violent laughter,’ and Plato is nothing if not authoritarian and po-faced. Plato has Socrates say that fields and trees have nothing to teach him. I exclaim at that. Fields maybe but trees? Okay, a little bit of abuse here. 'Philosophy is a training for death, when the soul will exist without the body.' 'Balls' I've commented. Since the soul is what is life, when the body dies it dies with it. To think otherwise is the wishful thinking of a deflated ego wanting in importance; it's its form of self-importance. Plato's excuse is he's trying to bring the stability of the eternal into the flux of life, so is making out the soul comes from wherever the eternal resides and goes back there on death. That also gives rise to the idea the body is at odds with the soul, corrupting it, when the two are in fact one in the here and now. 'Writing spoils the direct relationship to truth in the present.' Okay. When my man composed art from my life then, with my, Mum's and everybody's collaboration, it wasn't written but in duologue form that when decades later it was realised intact from unconscious memory where it was stored and as it was being written, the writing did not spoil the direct relationship to truth in that past present and wasn't being untrue to the present it was being realised in either. That 'world rediscovered in anamnesis is the world of, she says Plato says, 'the Forms'. The soul, psyche, is equated with mind. Maybe, but not just conscious mind. Sex or Eros is a ...universal energy ...which may be destructive or can be used for good. It's the most common manifestation of the spirit, made matter so to speak, and an indication of the unity of souls with body. Truth in art is ...hard to estimate critically. This is gone into in 'the book' and ultimately it's a matter for the reader to decide whether it's true or not though any decision it's not reflects on the reader's inability to realise truth from writing. It's a matter ultimately of faith. ‘There is only one true artist ...and only one true work of art, the cosmos,’ which evoked from me ‘oh for god’s sake.’ That fabricator is the demiurge, who ‘is active nous, best translated as mind,’ evoking ‘oh god’. Iris Murdoch believes, ‘The image of a morally perfect but not all-powerful Goodness seems ...better to express some ultimate ...truth about our condition.’ She suggests the demiurge ‘realized his limitations at the start whereas Jehovah realized his later and was correspondingly bad-tempered.’ Her favourite word, ‘muddle’, makes its appearance. Either she can’t spell ‘harass’ or the OUP can’t; the misspelling occurs twice. She sells the pass, as do the religious and – god help them! - scientists by regarding us as created beings. ‘Form in art is for illusion and hides the true cosmic’ ie ordered ‘beauty and the ...real forms of necessity and causality, and blurs with fantasy.’

  10. 5 out of 5

    jt

    Honestly excellent.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ryō Nagafuji

    This was one of the only books in the library that referenced Plato's view of art and aesthetics in general, and it didn't fail to provide a lot of depth and detail in its analysis. This isn't a book I'd recommend to someone new to Plato's philosophy, but in that way it wastes less time explaining basic concepts and focuses on what's important in terms of aesthetics. It sometimes repeats itself, but it soon found its way to get back on track pretty quickly. Definitely would recommend to those in This was one of the only books in the library that referenced Plato's view of art and aesthetics in general, and it didn't fail to provide a lot of depth and detail in its analysis. This isn't a book I'd recommend to someone new to Plato's philosophy, but in that way it wastes less time explaining basic concepts and focuses on what's important in terms of aesthetics. It sometimes repeats itself, but it soon found its way to get back on track pretty quickly. Definitely would recommend to those interested in Plato and aesthetics!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Mark Valentine

    Murdoch's erudite monograph impresses me first by her command and control of the field--she had a fluent grasp of Plato and tours through his works with ease. Second, she leaves no doubt about the status of the arts in relation to the sheer beauty of rational contemplation of the reality of logic. Murdoch's erudite monograph impresses me first by her command and control of the field--she had a fluent grasp of Plato and tours through his works with ease. Second, she leaves no doubt about the status of the arts in relation to the sheer beauty of rational contemplation of the reality of logic.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Tudor

    A very well written and argued account of Plato's hesitation to artists.The central unifying theme is that Plato holds that artists deceive through imitation and there is something both immoral and sacrilegious about the deception. A very well written and argued account of Plato's hesitation to artists.The central unifying theme is that Plato holds that artists deceive through imitation and there is something both immoral and sacrilegious about the deception.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    Puts a new twist on Plato's analogy of the artist as deceiver & master of light entertainment. Murdoch shifts the perspective, bringing light on the human need for narrative and focusing less on the means to that end. Puts a new twist on Plato's analogy of the artist as deceiver & master of light entertainment. Murdoch shifts the perspective, bringing light on the human need for narrative and focusing less on the means to that end.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Paula

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jay

  17. 5 out of 5

    Nadia

  18. 4 out of 5

    Paul

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sukaina

  20. 4 out of 5

    selin a.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Patricia

  22. 4 out of 5

    Marija

  23. 5 out of 5

    PEDRO González

  24. 5 out of 5

    Vicky

  25. 5 out of 5

    Daniela

  26. 4 out of 5

    Eric Guo

  27. 5 out of 5

    Alec Holt

  28. 5 out of 5

    Cora D

  29. 5 out of 5

    Διόνυσος Ελευθέριος

  30. 4 out of 5

    Zeynep

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