What’s the Matter with Poetry? On ‘The Consolation of Philosophy’


Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does a bunch of other stuff.

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17 Responses

  1. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    If I haven’t said so before, @rufus-f , I really, really, really enjoy your exploration of the classics. This one was particularly interesting to me, as I have not yet read Boethius at all.Report

  2. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    What did Boethius (and Plato) have against poetry?

    That neither of their names rhymed with anything.Report

  3. Avatar jayotis says:

    Editorial writers have a phrase, “marching up the hill then marching back down again,” to describe a piece that promises much and fails to deliver. I’m afraid that’s what happens here. Plato’s concern about poetry in the Republic is very specific, that the poets make up stories about the gods that make them see undignified. He wants us to begin to look toward a transcendent God. Dame Philosophy’s complaint to Boethius about poetry isn’t about a distaste for rhymed composition. It is a rhetorical ploy to express the need to let go of the particular and transient so that the mind can rise to contemplation of the eternal. This is expressed in the embroidery on her cloak which depicts a ladder with Greek letter Pi (for praxis) at the base and Theta (for Theoria) at the top. Quite a poetic image, don’t you think?Report

  4. Avatar veronica d says:

    My takeaway is that philosophy was full of misogynists. 🙂Report

  5. Avatar Murali says:

    The problem with poetry is that their persuasive power is unrelated to the truth of the underlying message.
    For instance, watching CSI and other cop shows can beguile us into approving behaviour we ought to be critical of. (violation of 5th amendment rights etc)Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Murali says:

      The problem with poetry is that their persuasive power is unrelated to the truth of the underlying message.

      This is never a problem with philosophy.Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Chris says:

        In principle, it shouldn’t be. At the very least, we tell ourselves that we only appeal to reasons. Clearly, those other guys over there use rhetorical tricks to convince their audience while we do not use such low tactics.

        More seriously, philosophy, at least in its purest form, arrives at conclusions through sound inferences. At the very least it is legitimate to claim something along these lines given the standard criterion for what counts as good philosophy.

        The standard criterion for what counts as good poetry has more to do with the beauty of the form than to the soundness of any argument contained therein. Thus, of the various possible aims of poetry and literature, the communication of the author’s insight seems especially problematic. A poet’s primary skill is a facility with words and it seems that far too often, people give the ideas of poets greater epistemic weight than they would give joe-schmoe. But this is a mistake since there is nothing about having facility with words that makes one particularly insightful about topics that have little to do with facile sentence constructionReport

  6. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    Dude, you are knocking it out of the park these days.Report

  7. Avatar Paul Barnes says:

    Isn’t it similar to Allan Bloom’s complaint about rock music in The Closing of the American Mind?Report