Plutarch: Art must inform Science.

Demetrius I of Macedon (337–283 BC)

Demetrius I of Macedon (337–283 BC)

Ah, Plutarch: usually better than anything else…

You really have to read this slowly, and go on to read the rest of the paragraph, and take your time, to get what he is saying here.


Ingenious men have long observed a resemblance between the arts and the bodily senses. And they were first led to do so, I think, by noticing the way in which, both in the arts and with our senses, we examine opposites.

Judgment once obtained, the use to which we put it differs in the two cases.


Our senses are not meant to pick out black rather than white, to prefer sweet to bitter, or soft and yielding to hard and resisting objects; all they have to do is to receive impressions as they occur, and report to the understanding the impressions as received.


The arts, on the other hand, which reason institutes expressly to choose and obtain some suitable, and to refuse and get rid of some unsuitable object, have their proper concern in the consideration of the former [i.e. the “suitable object”]; though, in a casual and contingent way, they must also, for the very rejection of them, pay attention to the latter [i.e. the “unsuitable object”].

Medicine, to produce health, has to examine disease, and music, to create harmony, must investigate discord; and the supreme arts, of temperance, of justice, and of wisdom, as they are acts of judgment and selection, exercised not on good and just and expedient only, but also on wicked, unjust, and inexpedient objects, do not give their commendations to the mere innocence whose boast is its inexperience of evil, and whose truer name is, by their award, simpleness and ignorance of what all men who live aright should know.

(-Plutarch, Demetrius, trans. John Dryden)


My God but that last paragraph is good! That is what we miss when we go without tragedy, as an art form (the highest art form?).

Thanks, dear reader, should you ever find me, for being my gadfly.



About philokalos

Philologist, historian, and lover of great books, I started this blog to keep myself alert to the beauty of what I see amid the demands of my work.
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