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Notes and Fragments THE FUTURE PRESENT TENSE by Justin Leiber Perhaps the simplest, most general, and oldest claim about fiction is that it should instruct and entertain. A logical positivist might draw a sharp line between the factual content of a discourse and the pleasurable emotional release available to the auditor. Aristotle straddles this distinction in seeing (dramatic) fiction as imitation of, principally, human action, an imitation which is, Aristotle assures us in Poetics, both naturally pleasurable to perform or to observe performed. The distinction is straddled because for something to be an imitation of something else it must convey some body of rough fact about that thing; and granted various conventions of form and good form, the more accurate, compact, and revealing the imitation, the more the entertainment. Indeed, Aristotle also insists that drama is more universal than history, for the poet depicts what is necessary and probable in human action, while history depicts what is actual, though perhaps improbable, and the historian may not illume what is necessary, representative, exemplary, or prophetic in the mass of supposed actualities. There is a puzzle here in Aristotle's attitude. All humans by nature desire to know is the resolute thesis of the Metaphysics and he suggests there and elsewhere that this desire is a noble one and one whose fulfillment is an important form and ingredient of happiness. In Poetics it is quite clear that both the poet and the audience must have some of the sort of stuff that Aristotle considers fully genuine knowledge, explanatory knowledge, knowledge of universals, for otherwise they could not produce or understand the work as successful (or unsuccessful) imitation of the probable, 203 204Philosophy and Literature necessary, exemplary, etc., in human action. So in entertaining the work inevitably instructs. Aristotle does say that Homer gives in hexameters an imitation of human action, while Empedocles gives in hexameters physical philosophy . But what if Empedocles were providing us psychology? The example could be made more telling if we consider a twentieth-century psychoanalytic Empedocles who tracks or elucidates some generalizations of psychology through giving imagined, or partly imaged, case histories — how would such a work be psychology as opposed to fiction? Imitation (mimesis) wouldn't do thejob, for Aristotle mentions Socratic Dialogue as a form of it. To move to contemporary instances, what may we suppose is the difference between Plato's Republic and Robert Heinlein's Space Cadet? l In Space Cadet, we find some hundred years hence a modernized version of the Platonic Republic, with an elite outgrowth of the United Nations, the "Space Patrol," playing the role of the philosopher kings to the whole earth. Heinlein presents Plato's three-component theory of human psychology and of the meritocratic, tripartite, hierarchic structure of the most real, or healthy, state, and he argues and illustrates the basic Platonic thesis. Ethics is as much an objective science as mathematics, immorality is a form of ignorance (no one knowingly does wrong), and the general solution to the problem of statescraft is the creation of an educational system that will winnow, at level after level, and further educate an intellectual/ethical elite who will monopolize ultimate weaponry and political power, who will use the "divine lie" tojustify their authority, and who will act out of ethical knowledge, not for individual gain. Heinlein gives his account of these matters from the point of view of a Mathew Dobson, a Patrol candidate, who resembles a Candide who finds himself within a reasonable facsimile of the Just State, if not the Best of All Possible Worlds. One concedes that Plato provides us a substantially original, more detailed and coherently worked out set of speculations and theories, while Heinlein provides us a perhaps banal version of these ideas in a sentimental (perhaps fascistic) vision. Similarly, one eagerly concedes that Plato's Republic has played a potent role in European Civilization and the sweep of human thought, while Space Cadet has not. But, plainly, the distinction between a work of philosophy, or of physics, and a (dramatic) fiction or science fiction, cannot be this. One can have unoriginal, false, or impotent works of physics, psychology, or philosophy. So one cannot argue on...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 203-211
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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