What is the key difference between philosophy and poetry? Can a quote be identified as poetic with a philosophical idea hidden within it? For example Albert Einstein once said:

Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.

Could this quote be identified as a sort of poetry? Can it be described as something that describes a philosophical idea? This question arose as someone told me that this is his philosophy, but it sounds like a poetic piece that describes an idea to me. In addition, David Schmidtz once said that “Life is a house and meaning is what makes it home.” This also sounds poetic, but does it also describe a philosophy in a single sentence?

In general, can a poetic sentence/quote be used as a philosophy or to more generally describe a philosophy? Can a poetic quote be described as a philosophy?

  • Philosophy deals about some type of knowledge, poetry about some type of language expression. Differences are obvious. "A poetic quote can be described as a philosophy" or the opposite doesn't imply that they are similar. A quote can be described as a fallacy, and that doesn't imply quotes are fallacies. – RodolfoAP Nov 15 '17 at 4:23
  • Do you read and enjoy poetry? – Mozibur Ullah Nov 15 '17 at 6:03
  • Whence things have their origin, Thence also their destruction happens, As is the order of things; For they execute the sentence upon one another - The condemnation for the crime - In conformity with the ordinance of Time. – Gordon Nov 15 '17 at 7:01
  • That is a fragment of Anaximander. You can read about him here: iep.utm.edu/anaximan/#H4 You will see that your questions are not off the mark. – Gordon Nov 15 '17 at 7:06
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    You may also find this book interesting regarding W.B. Yeats. books.google.com/books/about/High_Talk.html?id=T1qV9qmttr0C – Gordon Nov 15 '17 at 7:10

They can be two different things or not. Take Leopardi. He wrote the Zibaldone as one of the most original philosophers of XIX century, and at the same time he wrote poems which reflected what he wrote in Zibaldone. His poetry cannot be divided by his thought. So I think in general no, poetry cannot be quoted in philosophy to confirm a theory (remember Nietzsche in Thus Spoke Zarathustra : "Poets lie too much") , because poets like "slogans" while philosphers don't. On the other side, in some cases a poet can be a philosopher or a philosopher can be a poet (like Leopardi).

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    I am very happy that you mention Leopardi. A great poet, and a great spirit. This poem meant a lot to Bertrand Russell, L'Infinito. (Impact of Science on Society, 1952). He was a fan of Leopardi in general. More Leopardi in translation to English: Title A Leopardi reader Author Leopardi, Giacomo, 1798-1837. Publisher:University of Illinois Press,Pub date:c1981. Some of the translation here are not so good imo. – Gordon Nov 15 '17 at 13:27
  • More re: Russell, Leopardi: books.google.com/… – Gordon Nov 15 '17 at 13:30

The quote by Schmidze sounds to me rather like it's leveraging Heidegger: Language is the home of being; Heideggers philosophical commitment to poetry pushed him towards the discovery of phenomenology as a philosophical movement.

Badiou, a French philosopher committed to the arts writes the following in his book The Age of Poets:

I wish to argue, on the contrary, that there exists an essential link between poetry and communism, of we understand 'communism' in its primary sense: the concern for what is common to all. A tense, paradoxical, violent love of life in common. The desire of what ought to be common and accessible to all should not be appropriated by the servants of Capital. The poetic desire that the things of life would be like the sky and the earth, like the water of the oceans and the brush res on a summers night - that is to say, would belong by right to the whole world.


Poets are those who try to make a language say what it seems incapable of saying. Poets are those who seek to create in languish new names to name that, which before the poem, had no name ... the poem is a gift to language. But this gift, like language itself, is destined to the common - that is, to that anonymous point, where what matters is not one person in particular, but all, in the singular.


In Indian philosophy most philosophical ideas are in the form of poems. Philosophy can be summarized in the form of poetry. By this, people can remember ideas easily. You may verify the tones of some proverbs...doesn't it convey some philosophy?

(Though I honor him much) I feel Einstein's as mere ideas...not as a poetry. But the latter,... it sounds as poetic.

This question arose as someone told me that this is his philosophy, but it sounds like a poetic piece that describes an idea to me.

This might be because he loves that idol (Einstein) so much. Sometimes the words that come from a person whom we love so much will feel as poetic. [You may check the last two words--'to me', in the related statement.]

You may verify a common word used in Sanskrit to represent a poet.


Poetry is a form of expression of ideas or emotions. Usually with some kind of rhythmical meter or structure to the language (otherwise it's prose). But the definition is vague; sometimes the only distinguishing feature is that a poet wrote it (and yes, this is circular).

The idea that is being expressed in the poetry can be philosophical. But usually it isn't nor is poetry the usual expression of philosophical ideas. So any claims to identity between poetry and philosophy are pretty tenuous.

As to your two quotes. The Einstein quote is definitely expressing a philosophical idea. Whether you consider it poetry or not is debatable. He's used repetition as a rhetorical device to elicit a response similar to rhythm in poetry. But it's probably a stretch to call it poetry.

I'm going to be ungenerous to the Schmitz quote and classify it as trite, meaningless doggerel. Now, in the sense that doggerel is poetry and philosophy can sometimes be trite and meaningless, one could argue that this is both. But I won't be doing that.


There's a natural relationship between the two: Poems operate outside the established structures of well-defined meanings in standard language, and philosophies operate outside standard and conventional modes of thought. In addition, every poem is an expression of an aesthetic, and every aesthetic is a precipitate of some philosophy, whether or not that philosophy has been codified, or the connection between the two made explicit.

It's worth noting, however, that the vast majority of poetry is not explicitly philosophical, even if it is implicitly so (and quite a lot of philosophy is not even mildly poetic). A naive equation of the two, therefore, is probably an overreach.


The ancient quarrel between poetry and philosophy

Philosophers from Plato to Heidegger have seen a fundamental tension or incompatibility between philosophy and poetry. The 'ancient quarrel' quote is from Plato, Republic 10.607b 5 and c 3. Plato's own quarrel with poetry appears rather local :

Gould understands Plato's "ancient quarrel between philosophy and poetry" (Rep. 10, 607b5-6) to be, au fond, a conflict between two world-views, and, equally, between their psychological roots: on the one side, "philosophy," which means a craving for, and faith in, an ultimate order of justice; on the other, "poetry," which means the human yearning to believe in the injustice of existence. (Stephen Halliwell, ' The Ancient Quarrel between Poetry and Philosophy by Thomas Gould', Classical Philology, Vol. 87, No. 3 (Jul., 1992), pp. 263-269 : 264.)

There is clearly no reason, beyond the cultural contingencies of ancient Greece, why poetry as such should be wedded to a view of the injustice of human existence.

Heidegger adopts :

the position in Was ist das—die Philosophie? (What is philosophy?): ‘‘Between these two — thought [= philosophy] and poetry — reigns a hidden relationship because both are given to the service of language and give themselves to it. Between them, however, there persists at the same time a deep abyss, for ‘they live on separate mountains.’’’. (Brenda Deen Schildgen, 'Animals, Poetry, Philosophy, and Dante's Commedia', Modern Philology, Vol. 108, No. 1 (August 2010), pp. 20-44 : 22.)

Logical relations

Philosophy is (in basic terms) a mode of inquiry. Poetry is (in basic terms) a mode of expression. I can't see any reason a priori why philosophy cannot be expressed through poetry.

A distinction

Poetry can be philosophical in two ways.

▻ Poetry can be, and this is true of Dante's La Divina Comedia ('Divine Comedy'), informed by philosophical preconceptions. Ideas from St Thomas Aquinas, Aristotle (maestro di color che sanno - 'master of those who know', in Dante's words) and to a less extent Plato are the essential framework of the work.

▻ Poetry can also express and expound philosophical views : Lucretius' 'De rerum natura' ('On the Nature of Things') is poetry - a poem that sets out the main ideas and arguments of Epicurean philosophy on what the world is made of, what is the road to happiness, what happens after death, and other philosophical topics. Here is Greek philosophy set out in Latin verse.

Philosophical and poetic quotes

The satirical poetic comedies of Aristophanes describe philosophy in single lines : you can find this in Nephelai ('The Clouds'), which sends up (not very accurately but that is contingent) the philosophy of Socrates. Equally your quote from David Schmidtz, Life is a house and meaning is what makes it home, might be counted as expressing a kind of broadly philosophical view in the imaginative, compressed metaphor that one often finds in poetry.

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