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PREAMBLE It is hardly striking that Iris Murdoch has an elevated view of art.

She is, after all, both a novelist and a philosopher--an artist who believes the artistic enterprise is the best means of conveying goodness to a secular, post-Christian world. Art takes the place of science, philosophy, and religion in making truth accessible to the person-in-the-street; it is a `high substitute for the spiritual and the speculative life'.(1) Yet surprisingly, Iris Murdoch also writes as a Platonist, which is problematic since Plato clearly believes art is beyond redemption. This difficulty inspired The Fire and the Sun, a book that is both exposition and disagreement, and which undergirds the positive reinterpretation of Plato's aesthetics found in Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals.(2) The first section of this article, `Images of Moral Deformity', will track the moral, metaphysical, and religious features of Plato's negative view of art, highlighting Iris Murdoch's creative reply--her claim that `art reveals the real' (F&S, p. 84). In place of Plato's divided epistemology of rational knowledge versus irrational opinion, she substitutes the unified, post-Kantian, Romantic imagination. This `Aesthetic Imagination' is the subject of the second section, for its elevation allows Iris Murdoch to overcome Plato's distinction between philosophical truth and art and to secure the redemption of the aesthetic realm. I. IMAGES OF MORAL DEFORMITY (i) Plato has a `layered' critique of art. At one level his objection is an ethical one--art does not promote moral rectitude. The offerings and images of the artist are `baneful' because they possess the power to infect the moral wellbeing of the nation's youth. Plato would like to `obliterate many obnoxious passages' from the writings of Homer and Hesiod on this account (Republic 386). It is not that there is anything unpoetic or aesthetically unpleasing about these texts; on the contrary, the danger Plato associates with art increases with the level of `poetical charm'. The greater the poet, the more seductive the lie. For Plato, art is born in the irrational part of the soul, the home of passion and sensation. It fosters immorality in the young and impressionable and it must, therefore, be suppressed, controlled, and finally overcome.

How does Iris Murdoch deal with this moral objection to art--Plato's view that it imitates that which is neither good nor true? Firstly, she says quite baldly that Plato did not do justice to `the unique truth-conveying capacities of art' (F&S, p. 85). She attempts to rectify this failure by distinguishing between good art and bad art, a distinction that allows her to leave the basic structure of the Platonic critique intact. Art can still be an object of scorn. Yet she is careful not to place too harsh a prohibition even against bad art. It is far better, she says in Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals, to read a silly magazine than to brood about vengeance. Earlier, in The Fire and The Sun she puts it more strongly: How, when, whether bad art (of which of course there is a great deal) is morally damaging is, as we know, a deep question not easily answered. For great art to exist a general practice of art must exist; and even trivial art is a fairly harmless consolation, as Plato himself seems prepared to admit in the Laws. (F&S, pp. 77-78) On another, deeper level, Iris Murdoch is not prepared to rest content with this distinction. Both good and bad art are capable of being redeemed. It is possible for the artist as well as the philosopher to make the journey out of the Cave. To facilitate this movement she blurs Plato's sharp distinction between the visible world of changing appearances and the eternal still world of the invisible Forms. Plato is adamant that there is no access to the Forms from the visible world. Yet for