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Plato declared art as the art of imitation; in drama, Aristotle distinguishes tragedy and satire as high and low forms respectively it presents the problem of life, in tragedy, better or higher, that is more nobler than they are; and in the second, as worse, or lower than they are (in this vertical classification, it aligns with the body - the rational, prophetic, and affective faculty of the mind as higher, and the sexual organs of the satyrs as lower).

This leaves the problem of the middle term - drama that presents life as it is - the level point; is there one - did Aristotle, or his followers identify one?

Can we posit here, the novel of social observation and of psychological introspection and inspection as this middle term?

(Other possibilities might be the documentary, which avowedly presents things as they are; but though it may present itself through a dramaticv structure, lacks the fictive element; or perhaps 'reality tv' - but this appears to suffer from the same fault).

  • Please, note that "middle term" (as you can see googling "aristotelian middle term") is something specific in Aristotle's logic : it is the term that does not appear in the conclusion of a valid syllogism. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Jan 22 '15 at 9:50
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA: fair enough; I'm using this 'middle term' not in the Aristotelian sense; but only within the argument; ie the 'missing term' between 'high' drama & 'low' satire; I've put the preceding terms in quotes, as the argument is schematic; there is high satire and low drama of course; and mixtures too - the 'Mechanicals' in Midsummers Night Dream for instance; but the general argument stands – Mozibur Ullah Jan 22 '15 at 10:15
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from William A. Wallace, O.P., “Thomism and the Quantum Enigma,” The Thomist 61 (1997): 455–468. (my emphasis):

Aquinas, having been taught by Albert the Great, had an excellent grasp of Aristotle's science of nature. He upgraded the knowledge this gave him to organize, as it were, a science of supernature (that of revealed theology), making use of analogy and the Aristotelian concept of a "mixed science [scientia media]," combining propositions established by reason with propositions assented to by faith. My project would be to do something similar: to take knowledge we possess from ordinary experience of nature to organize the special type of knowing we call modern science, making use of analogy or modeling techniques and the "mixed science" of mathematical physics, which combines propositions established through the observation of nature with those of mathematics. Here I rely on a teaching that is distinctive of Thomism, in contrast to other Scholastic systems of thought, namely, that analogical middle terms are sufficient for a valid demonstration, no less in mathematical physics than in the science of sacred theology. Such terms, and the models they frequently employ, can provide us with insights into the microworld and the megacosm that are not unlike those Aquinas offered his contemporaries into the spirit world of the immaterial and the incorporeal.

Although he mentioned the "mixed science" of modern mathematical physics, I don't see why there couldn't be other mixed sciences, like your example: (social observation) + (psychological introspection and inspection).

  • Interesting comment; I'd be curious how this stands for example, with Newtons cosmology which I suspect (speculatively) is informed by his theology; though not usually spoken of in these terms. – Mozibur Ullah Jan 22 '15 at 10:17
  • @MoziburUllah: You bring up an interesting point. – Geremia Jan 23 '15 at 3:51
  • @MoziburUllah: I just started this question on how one justifies that "analogical middle terms are sufficient for a valid demonstration." – Geremia Jan 23 '15 at 3:58
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Here are some comments ...

See as general introduction : Aristotle: Poetics by Joe Sachs.

Art is imitation :

Epic poetry and tragedy, as also comedy, dithyrambic poetry, and most fluteplaying and lyre-playing, are all, viewed as a whole, modes of imitation [1447a14-1447a18].

The objects the imitator represents are actions, with agents who are necessarily either good men or bad — the diversities of human character being nearly always derivative from this primary distinction, since it is by badness and excellence men differ in character. It follows, therefore, that the agents represented must be either above our own level of goodness, or beneath it, or just such as we are [1448a1-1448a18].

Poetry, however, soon broke up into two kinds according to the differences of character in the individual poets; for the graver among them would represent noble actions, and those of noble personages; and the meaner sort the actions of the ignoble [1448b24-1449a6].

From what we have said it will be seen that the poet’s function is to describe, not the thing that has happened, but a kind of thing that might happen, i.e. what is possible as being probable or necessary. [...] Hence poetry is something more philosophic and of graver import than history, since its statements are of the nature rather of universals, whereas those of history are singulars [1451a37-1451b26].

Tragedy, however, is an imitation not only of a complete action, but also of incidents arousing pity and fear [1452a3-1452a12].

The tragic pleasure is that of pity and fear, and the poet has to produce it by a work of imitation [1453b12-1453b37].

Apart from tragedy and epic poetry, very few words are spent on comedy : we can think that this is due to the "less noble" sentiments that comedy arises.

Now for the "middle form" of poetic imitation : the imitation of men and their actions as "they are", no better nor worse.

I think that the issue is, in terms of Aristotle's approach (assuming that there are no other sources available regarding "poetical realism" that I do not know) : what is the aim of an imitation of reality "as it is" ? What sentiments (passions) it must arise ?


In my very very personal opinion, it is hard to say that e.g. "reality tv" aims at arising some passion... at least not a "noble" one. If so, I'm tempted to classify it far below comedy.

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