Is Philosophy Poetry?


That is one reason to be a woman.

Does this question seem weird? What can philosophy and poetry share or have in common. For one thing they can both utilize metaphors, admittedly in different ways and to express different things. So, is this metaphor—philosophy is poetry—useful in any way?

As a starter I decided to look at my definitions of philosophy and poetry and show a connection between them. I define philosophy as the exploration of ideas, concepts, or things.^ I define poetry as the exploration of feelings. Obvious, by these definitions, which of course could be quibbled with, exploration is the key component to both. It is just that they have separate domains of what they explore. Within philosophy of mind feelings are explored, but not in the same way as poetry explores them. It maybe better to say poetry expresses feelings; although, I think exploring is still valid. Does philosophy express anything? It might be said that it expresses human beings’ deepest thoughts.

Now, there is not an absence of thought when we feel, and visa versa, there is not an absence of feeling when we think. Matter of fact, it might be that some of our strongest feelings are aroused when we think the deepest. So, am I blurring the lines between philosophy and poetry? Hardly. It seems clear that the large portion of what philosophy explores or expresses is thought, and that the large portion of what poetry explores or expresses is feeling.

There maybe a closer connection than just exploration and expression. This is that both philosophy (often) and poetry (most often) uses metaphor to do their exploring or expressing. Metaphors allow us to expand our horizons. We often explain one thing in terms of another. So, are there any metaphors that link philosophy and poetry? Well, maybe.

Color metaphors are common. Some philosophers are accused of “writing purple prose,” and some “see the world with rose colored glass.” Also, there are philosophers who think in “black and white” terms, while others mainly stick to the “grays” in between. Some philosophers seek out “green pastures;” they look to find where or how one can find peace. There are some philosophers, like some poets that find significance in the “rainbow.”

Currently, I am working with orange;  Baxter* is lying next to me. Is he warning me to be cautious? When it comes to my personal philosophy at one point I used color to code my emotions as an adjunct to understanding them. Back then I felt confused a good deal of the time, and my color for that was fuschia. I suppose this was because of its fusion of different colors. Red stood for anger, probably a typical assignment. Blue and gray (my favorite colors) where for happiness and excitement, respectively. These colors are often associate with depression, but not usually for me. My depression colors were black and brown. I guess black is obvious, but brown was because it all felt murky when I was depressed. When I was deeply depressed I used to say, “I couldn’t even see the tunnel, let alone the light at the end of it.” In the present, since I have become more efficient at recognizing, understanding, and expressing my feelings (although, I still feel there is work to do in this area), I do not often think in color terms so much anymore.

Another common metaphor involves distance. Its main sense is the length between two points. Some expressions you may run into are: “I have traveled far to find” for the amount of time spent in contemplation; “they are far apart” used for when two people (philosophers in this case) differ a great deal on their conclusions; “the breadth of his knowledge is great,” said of a philosopher (or any thinker really), whose knowledge is “wide”; “the span of his coverage,” meaning the topic was covered well; and “she was farsighted,” for one whose vision reaches into the future.

The battle or war metaphor is often used in describing arguments and debates. “They fought it out tooth and nail in the debate”; “his argument was a slam dunk”; “she warred against the rest of the class”; “they scrimmaged at the seminar, and after there were a barrage of papers”; “Aristotle and Plato clashed on almost everything”; and “their quarrel was contentious”.

Finally, here are some weather metaphors. “He’s got his head in the clouds,” said of an absent minded professor. Marx could be seen as speaking of “the winds of change.” Schopenhauer can be described as “living under a black cloud.” Stoics should be content “in a driving rain.” And, some philosophy could be classified as “frigid.”

Most of these statements (except for my colors for feelings paragraph) are metaphorical descriptions of philosophy rather than actual examples of metaphors being used in philosophy. But the use of metaphors in philosophy (as in life in general) is ubiquitous, so I am not going to give any examples. I will leave this as an exercise for those who are curious.† There is a book out there by the same authors of Metaphors We Live By, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, entitled Philosophy in the Flesh. The first book sets out to explain how metaphors are ubiquitous in what we say and how we think,‡ and the second explores how philosophy originates in metaphors of the body. There is a section in this second book that gives a metaphor by metaphor depiction of a part of Immanuel Kant’s philosophy.

Then, there are your “poet philosophers.” These poets use their poetry to explore philosophical issues. They include in no particular order William Blake, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lucretius, and Johann Wolfgang Goethe. And, if metaphor is abundant in the work of regular philosophers, it appears in spades in the work of the poet philosopher.

This is about it for know. I think I will go in search of metaphors that can be used in my own philosophy, or go and pet Baxter, who is no longer at my side.

Poet or Philosopher?

^ Or, thought thinking about thought.

* He is a large orange tabby, if you have not heard of him before.

† Or, does this mean I am just too lazy.

‡ I have issues with the thought part of this, but will leave it for another time.


7 thoughts on “Is Philosophy Poetry?

  1. An interesting proposition and good exposition, Steven. You make your point well. I suppose one could say that a well-made philosophical argument is its own form of poetry or that certain passages within a longer philosophical treatise may make effective use of poetic language or devices. But one thing that will always separate the two is length. Poetry’s first goal is compression; packing as much meaning, beauty, and metaphor into as little space as possible, whereas it seems like philosophy’s prime directives seem to be complexity and length.

    Please forgive me. I was attempting to respond to your comment on my post “A Poem, Some Pics” (for which thank you, by the way) when I somehow managed to permanently delete your comment and was unable subsequently to retrieve it. I was going to explain the poem to you a little. It’s actually 4 separate haiku presented as a cycle to make one poem about the weather. Haiku is perhaps the paragon of poetic compression, and as it was originally practiced by the Japanese who originated it almost always dealt with nature as its subject. Finally, my cycle, in its unconventional ordering of the seasons, is meant to suggest how out of whack our weather has been becoming as global temperatures rise.

    Thank you for this thoughtful post and for reading and commenting on my blog.

    Take care, be well, and happy thinking,



    1. Thank you Denny for your comment.

      I also want to thank you for your compliment because I was not sure how well it all hung together, so I feel much better about it now. Actually, anytime you compliment my writing as opposed to the content I feel that I have gotten a passing grade, not that I do not appreciate your compliments on the content as well.

      I think in the main you are correct. Poetry in general is much shorter than philosophy. However, there are some book length poems. They do tend to be more on the philosophical side, like Lucretius’ _On the Nature of Things_, which oddly enough, I have only seen in prose. There are Dante’s and Milton’s major works, but they are more theological than philosophical.

      I did not notice the haiku-ness of your poem (“Changing Seasons @ I just reread it and now it makes much better sense. I actually think it is rather cool, just like the pictures.

      Maybe, I could attempt a post in poetic form. It would defiintely be a challenge for me. But, a series of haikus might work for the structure.

      Thanks once again.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My pleasure, Steven. I would love to see you try your hand at some kind of poetry some time. When I read your longer, well-argued, philosophical posts, I’m often afraid I’ve failed to understand you because I lack the sort of intelligence to keep up with that level of discourse. So reading something more along the lines of my own preferences would be sheer joy! Not that I’m trying to dissuade you from what you love and are good at; I’m just acknowledging my own limitations & preferences.

        Have a great day!


      2. Thank you for your compliments and honesty, Denny.

        Unfortunately, what I have in mind is writing a relatively short post (approximately 1,000 words), then converting it into some kind of verse. The arguments would still be there.

        Liked by 1 person

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