Aristotle's "Poetics": Reason, Necessity and Plot

Dissertation, The Catholic University of America (2004)

Abstract
The dissertation clarifies the logic and epistemology underlying Aristotle's account of the composition and the understanding of the poetic arts in his Poetics. The dissertation agrees with the Arab commentators that the Poetics is distinguished by a specific form of the syllogism, but disagrees regarding the nature of the reasoning involved in the Poetics. ;The introduction surveys the history of the Poetics, distinguishing the normative approach of aesthetic theory from philosophical interpretations of the Poetics. The first chapter argues that mimesis forms a distinctive form of reasoning in the Poetics analogous to the enthymeme in the Rhetoric, and that Aristotle supplements the initial, formal division of the poetic arts with a teleological investigation of the perfected forms of the poetic arts, tragedy and comedy. The second chapter argues that understanding the imitation of action in tragedy relies upon the practical syllogism. Because the change in fortune in tragedy comes about contrary to the intentions of the protagonists, the clarification of the action in poetic artifice is also complex. Aristotle's understanding of chance as the intersection of two practical syllogisms in which a spontaneous event acquires intelligibility and the appearance of necessity underlies the Poetics. The dissertation calls this form of understanding the imitation of action the "poetic syllogism." ;Chapter 3 shows how the reversal in the action in tragedy takes place through the conformity of the incidents and characters to universal types. The universal acts contrary to the protagonists' intentions because the type of character suitable for tragic representation is the man who is not epieikes, i.e., incapable of judging the universal in his particular circumstances. For Aristotle, poetic composition stylizes the action so that the imitation points to a universal moral principle of which the protagonist is ignorant but that is clear to the spectator. ;Chapter 4 examines the logic of the imitation of action in the Poetics by drawing on Aristotle's discussion of arguments by signs from the Posterior Analytics and the Rhetoric. The dissertation concludes with suggestions for additional research regarding the Aristotle's understanding of the reasoning used in poetics and analogies with Plato's criticisms of poetry
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