Poetry and Philosophy

What makes philosophy great? Doubtless a confluence of critical thinking flowing from a myriad of disciplines, not least of all poetry. But what makes a poet great? Not surprisingly, one of the same ingredients of magnificent philosophers: an intense honesty of reality that does not simply accept what is stabilized and fixed. A good deal of this power derives from the poet’s essential autonomy and isolation in savoring a full range of profound experiences that do not fit traditional categories and thus force the poet to creatively change our perception of reality. With this new found liberty in recreating meanings great artists have again and again restored our sense of childlike wonder. They have helped us to see things anew that are less swayed by traditional standards. Poetry essentially points to possibilities that we might otherwise ignore and teaches us to look more honestly and intensely at what we might well have continued to shrug off.

Unlike many philosophers however the poets have an amazing ability to bury some of the force of their radicalism in mellifluous language. Put otherwise, they are able to challenge and subvert society with their youthful imagination and enticing words without becoming martyrs like the self-stylized polemicist Socrates. Great artists also have a rare ability to interpenetrate emotions with intellect unlike some dry obscurantist philosophers. But poets need philosophers just as much as philosophers require poets to do their work. Firstly, philosophy is needed to test poetry to see if it rings true. It would be an insult to the work of poets if philosophers did not take them serious or scrutinize their work. Poetry is a call to perceive reality like it has never been perceived before and transform our world in essentially new ways, but without the crucible of critical thought to temper the spirit’s flight no safeguards remain against fanaticism, inhumanity, and terror. Secondly, poetry is a midwife of philosophy which has assisted in the birth of great philosophical ideas. As Walter Kaufmann puts it, “Philosophy does not just happen to develop after poetry: it begins as critical reflection on the offerings of the poets, and it rarely betrays its origins completely.” Certainly this influence is not limited to art but extends to other conditions outside of philosophy such as science and politics. The basic premise remains the same: philosophy is animated and enriched by practices external to philosophy.If it wasn’t for the poets who made our conventional views and perceptions problematic and awakened our sense of imagination philosophy would certainly be much less than it is today.

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