July 18, 2005

Republic X Redux

I was greatly disturbed while rereading some material from Republic Book X today. I have read the argument several times before, and followed it, but it never hit me just how powerful and overwhelming it is.

There are two parts to the argument that really hit me today.

First, our emotions have opinions that are separate from the opinions of our reason. When we encounter drama, our emotions are tricked into believing what we see is real. Our reason is not, which is why, if asked, I can say that I know I am only watching T.V. However, the emotions are tricked, believe what is happening is real. If they were not tricked, we would have no emotional reaction to the events on the screen. Therefore, Plato is correct. The emotions have their own sets of opinions manipulated through non-rational means. This implies, further, that he is correct in believing the soul is divided into at least two parts...

Second, it calls into question the value of all drama. Whenever drama moves us, it does so by lying to the emotive part of our souls. Further, in order for drama to move us, it must sever the connection between our rational and emotional parts, causing our emotions to treat as true things our reason knows to be untrue. As such, drama is an intrinsic threat to the harmony of the soul. If happiness is impossible without psychic harmony and drama functions by disrupting psychic harmony, drama is always a threat to happiness.

A further question I am thinking about (though I have by no means solved) is why we take pleasure in the emotional experiences brought on by drama. We spend vast amounts of money to feel and praise those artists who can produce various emotions like fear and grief that we would rarely pursue outside of that context. What is the point of lying to our emotional part in order to create the experience of grief, over and over? For some reason this is pleasurable, but it is unclear why. Perhaps the emotional part takes pleasure in its ursurpation of the soul...

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