Love, Poetry and Philosophy

Week of: 
September 30, 2007
What is it: 

For Plato, love and philosophy were closely related. Love of beauty causes one to contemplate the whole sea of beauties, including beautiful systems of justice and beautiful scientific theories. But Plato wasn't such a fan of poetry, arguing that it merely evoked strong emotions in a way contrary to reason. Noted poet Troy Jollimore, winner of the 2006 National Book Critics Circle Award, disagrees. He joins John and Ken for a spirited discussion of love, poetry, and philosophy, recorded live at Powell's City of Books in Portland, Oregon.

Listening Notes: 

In this episode of Philosophy Talk, Ken and John look at the similarities and differences between poetry and philosophy, and consider what the two have to say about love. John jokingly argues that poetry is all about the emotions while philosophy is about reason and truth. Ken counters, however, by arguing that much philosophy is expressed through poetry. And as can be seen by the guest Troy Jollimore, poetry is often inspired by philosophy. There is clearly an intimate relationship between the two regarding their content and what poetry and philosophy are seeking to understanding.  However, the beauty of poetry is not limited simply to the philosophical ideas it addresses.

Language is also a very important element of poetry. Troy discusses the process of writing poetry and figuring out the correct format and style for a poem, and how oftentimes the shape it takes becomes forced on him by the poem he’s writing. He also extols the benefits of being able to approach an idea that one is writing about in a more literary fashion than philosophy often does. He also argues that when poetry and philosophy are dealing with metaphor, they are essentially operating at a very similar level of analysis.
When further considering the differences between philosophy and poetry, the role of the emotions in reasoning is a distinguishing one. Troy discusses how a faith in our passions and the access they give us to the world can result in an understanding of issues which is as justifiable as that provided by the traditional ruminations of philosophy. While arguments and reasoning can be more hidden in poetry, they are present. At the same time, Troy notes that he invokes his philosophical talents to try and better understand the reasons behind emotions like love, should they exist. He challenges himself to explore philosophically what are typically poetic topics.

  • Roving Philosophical Report (seek to 00:04:46): Zoe Corneli speaks to Chris Fatz—poetry buyer at Powell’s City of Books in Portland Oregon—to discuss the importance of poetry in our lives. He sees a “religious” importance to poetry, where it allows us to articulate the moral sense that lies in humans. He believes it informs the way we live and helps us live better by adding meaning to our experience. He expresses his sentiment that you do not have to be a poet to love and appreciate poetry.

Troy Jollimore, Professor of Philosophy, California State University Chico

Bonus Content: 


EXTENDED INTERVIEW with Chris Fatz, Poetry Buyer at Powell's City of Books

Related Resources: 

Asmis, Elizabeth.  "Plato on Poetic Creativity."  The Cambridge Companion to Plato.   Ed. Richard Kraut.  Cambridge University Press,  1992.  Cambridge Collections Online.  Cambridge University Press.  22 December 2007.
Danto, Arthur C. “Philosophy as/and/of Literature”. Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association, Vol. 58, No. 1. (Sep., 1984), pp. 5-20.
Griswold, Charles. Plato on Rhetoric and Poetry. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Gould, Thomas. The Ancient Quarrel Between Poetry and Philosophy.
Jollimore, Troy. Tom Thomson in Purgatory.
Levin, Susan B. The Ancient Quarrel Between Philosophy and Poetry Revisited: Plato and the Greek Literary Tradition.
Putnam, Ruth Ann and Hilary. “The Quarrel between Poetry and Philosophy”.
Sampson, Kristin. “Poetry and Philosophy” Website.
Santayana, George. Three Philosophical Poets: Lucretius, Dante And Goethe.
Verdicchio, Massimo and Burch, Robert. Between Philosophy and Poetry: Writing, Rhythm, History.

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