Erik Richardson

Teacher, Richardson Ideaworks, Inc.


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What, if any, are the meaningful differences between poetry and philosophy?

As with literature, reflected above, the same seems to hold for poetry. There are some differences in the form and style as they are often thought of in university contexts, but can poetry be reduced to a sub-category of philosophy? Are there aspects of poetry that are not philosophy? Is one more well-suited than the other to understand our condition or drive meaningful change?

  • Apr 25 2011: I think the greatest difference is in form. For poetry, the form is part of the content. Through attention to aesthetics, great poets fit on a single page what most people need an entire book to express. On the other hand, the most influential Western philosophers like Kant, for instance, seem to put hardly any effort into the aesthetics of their work. Their writing is highly technical, almost as if they were writing about great concepts like freedom and love for scientists instead of artists. They have no problem using hundreds and hundreds of pages to convey one single concept.

    This difference in form reflects their different purposes. Poetry is purposefully open-ended, ever ready for further development and interpretation. Philosophy, on the other hand, is argumentative. Most philosophers start their work rejecting the claims of previous philosophers, and offering instead new principles and claims. Deconstructionist philosophy, on the other hand, reads a lot like poetry. Laozi and Zhaungzi wrote in verse because they wanted their philosophy to be open-ended. Still, their deconstructionism was clearly meant as an attack on the world view of narrow-minded confucians. I don't think poetry on its own is argumentative in the way philosophy is.
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      Apr 26 2011: The greatest difference is indeed in form. After all the objective is undeniably the same -- to answer life's biggest questions, or at least to muse on their unanswerability. Most poets remind me of philosophers, one way or another. But I believe too many good philosophers shy away from greatness by creating an unnatural distance from poetry; that is, thinking systematically, mathematically. Nietzsche is an example of a philosopher who realised the importance of implementing poetry in his writing, and for this his name has become eternal.
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      Apr 28 2011: I suggested the issue of form in the opening question, so I want to dig a little further in than that. In the same way that a particular form makes haiku a subset of poetry, do the formal features of poetry make it a subset of philosophy?

      It will be helpful if we distinguish between good philosophy and bad, however, because there are many great thinkers, from Socrates to Russell to Heidegger who thought the goal of philosophy was to cut away our certainties, rather than provide more of them.
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    Apr 26 2011: as far as i know , philosophy explores what why and how in a systematic way and is open to be debated with logic and critical thinking .it allows interactions.generally speaking, from my own experience of reading , poetry often is a expression of what using metaphors and poet dosent explain how he/she come to that conclusion which is" what".

    i remember once i read a conversation between a jouralist and a chinese poet and the jouralist asked :" i heard you never explain your poem. why?"(people find it hard to understand what he wants to tell us thru words) and he replied:" i'd rather invite my audience to come up with their own understanding of the words."in this case ,his peotry allows uncertainity while philosophy make things certain.
  • Apr 26 2011: two way of knowledge
    poetry is result of seeing by heart
    philosophy is result of thinking by mind

    poetry is Intuition
    philosophy is rational
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    Apr 26 2011: Excellent question. Poetry is philosophy to me as philosophy is poetry to me, as Julia and Daniel agreed on in which I agree (third) the biggest difference is form.

    "Confused but not alone,
    within thoughts and sins.
    But, I did nothing 'cept love.
    Love is honesty, it is truth.
    Yet lies are the norm, the average.
    Lying for jobs, sex, and one's self worth.
    Justified by the means.
    Lies create more lies of esteem.
    Rather an enemy of state,
    than a product of hate."
  • Apr 25 2011: It would certainly seem that many poets also have strong philosophical insights and these heighten the expression of ideas within their work; Shakespeare and Keats prime examples. But as for poetry being philosophy, I don't think this is the case. Dawkins certainly isn't a poet. Perhaps the confusion between the two comes because of the multitude of philosophical lines of enquiry. Shakespeare's and Keat's aesthetic arguments on love and beauty differ greatly from Dawkin's memetics; both arguably are equally philosophical in nature, but not poetical. Maybe poetry is more a subcategory of rhetoric!
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      Apr 25 2011: Good examples, though they only seem to support the claim that there is some philosophy that can't be reduced to poetry. Can you think of examples where poetry is not attempting a philosophical aim? That would support the parallel claim that poetry can't be reduced to philosophy.
      • May 3 2011: Poetry is not philosophy. Vice Versa.

        Philosophy, at least in the way we (I assume mostly Westerners make up this board) understand it, is not a discipline designed to come up with 'philosophical statements'. In other words, philosophy is not about coming up with 'philosophical' thought. It is not a category of meaning, rather a way to categorize meaning. Philosophy, at least modern analytic philosophy is about the logical classification and elucidation of OTHER thoughts and statements. Philosophy is not what we think about, rather it is how to think.

        As such, poetry and philosophy are not like each other at all. Poetry, I argue, is an attempt to communicate (as all art is). Philosophy is an attempt to ensure that communication is useful. As such, perhaps philosophy could be applied to poetry, but they are certainly different.

        Historically, continental philosophy is very different from the above and similarities to poetry are much more pronounced, however, since continental philosophy on the whole lacks the logical rigor and certainty that I argue philosophy consists in, I do not include it in this answer as philosophy qua philosophy.
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    Apr 25 2011: I recognize both philosophy and poetry have pieces of the other within, however, they are fundamentally different.

    Philosophy is inquiry

    Poetry is expression
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      Apr 25 2011: Yes, but the key question is: expression of what?
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        Apr 25 2011: Good philosophy and good poetry should both grab you and leave a lasting effect. Poetry can be expression of anything I suppose.

        I can't put it eloquently, the way I feel, but here is my shot at it.

        Good poets cause good readers to ask questions and form philosophy themselves;
        Good philosophers cause good readers to notice the world and form poetry themselves.