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This article is taken from PN Review 7, Volume 5 Number 3, April - June 1979.

Desiring the Real, and the Good David Levy

The Fire and the Sun: Why Plato Banished the Artists, Iris Murdoch, Oxford University Press, £2.50.


'IN REGARD to knowledge of truths, the artist possesses a weaker morality than the thinker; he does not wish to be deprived of the glittering profound interpretations of life and guards against simple and sober methods and results. He appears to be fighting on behalf of the greater dignity and significance of man; in reality he refuses to give up the presuppositions which are most efficacious for his art, that is to say, the fantastic, mythical, uncertain, extreme, the sense for the symbolical, the over-estimation of the person, the belief in something miraculous in genius: he thus considers the perpetuation of his mode of creation more important than scientific devotion to the true in any form, however plainly this may appear.'


The words are Friedrich Nietzsche's (A Nietzsche Reader, Penguin, p. 125), but the theme is as old as philosophy. We know from a fragment of Heraclitus that even before Plato made his celebrated attack on much of what we call art, the philosopher already looked on the artist with suspicion. The reasons for this are not hard to see. Art and philosophy are in a sense rival methods by which an individual may try to articulate for others his insight into the character of reality. They are often seen as hostile because while, characteristically, art tries to render the unique, particular and passing being ...


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