I bumped upon a book on metametaphysics and I feel like reading about consciousness and philosophy of the mind from a contemporary perspective, but right from the start, in the face of an alarming net of thinkers and tendencies, this is the impression and the question that stikes me:

Aren't philosophers just like poets, searching for that word-sequence that will externalize what is inwardly felt as true, creating a vivid, sparkling, unfading image in the dim world of abstract thought?

Has someone else also had a similar initial feeling, and could state whether it changed after reading, reflecting, discussing and experiencing the mysteries of consciousness?

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3 Answers 3


This is a basic, but good, philosophy question. Philosophers take things that start out as poetry and try to make them rigorous. Eventually if it's made so rigorous as to be fully analytic, or testable, it becomes mathematics or science respectively. It may also make it into law or policy making, as lawyers and policy makers also need rigorous ways to think about general subjects. It also makes it into psychotherapy, since patients tend to use words and logic to work through their problems, and philosophy has helped them, or at least help the educators of their psychotherapists, do it better.

A typical philosophy problem is to take a common concept like "knowledge" or "freedom", try to define it rigorously in relation to other concepts we know about, and see how well all of those definitions capture our experience of what those concepts are. It might work like this:

  1. Try defining knowledge as "believing something, and it's true." That relates knowledge to the prior concepts of "believe" and "true." Fair enough, for now let's say we're not too interested in what those mean.
  2. Realize a counterexample: "Mary believes it will rain today. It does rain today, however, Mary was looking at last week's forecast, and it was just a coincidence that it rained today also." Now it sounds like Mary didn't know it would rain today. So our first concept was broken.
  3. Refine our definition: "One must truly believe X, and there must be a cause for X which they must also truly believe."
  4. This isn't terrible, but one problem jumps out. Right now, I feel hungry. I don't know why. Do we really want a concept of knowledge where one can't know one feels hungry?
  5. Let's say you can't know anything. This is a "radically impoverished" theory of knowledge. It's the philosopher's divide-by-zero error. It's a valid theory, but now it has nothing to do with the fact that we generally live our lives in some way that knowledge matters.

Does a theory of knowledge matter? It does in a court of law when you ask a question like, "did you know the victim have a weapon or did you merely think that?" It does in science research. And people seem to distinguish "improbable" and "impossible" and make decisions accordingly.

Poets try to inspire new meaning in words, philosophers try to figure out what those words mean and find value to others when they answer that question very well.

  • Do you think that in metaphysics, analysis can reach the depth of a good synthetic poetic analogy that instantaneously grasps a seed of truth, by what is traditionally called 'inspiration'?
    – exp8j
    Nov 29, 2020 at 20:41
  • @exp8j you're asking an extremely subjective question here. If you enjoy it that much, then sure, have that experience for yourself. But what I posted is the answer to your question, not just agreeing with your aesthetic enjoyment.
    – djechlin
    Nov 29, 2020 at 20:50
  • To tell the truth, if I want exact reasoning then I turn to mathematics. If I want aesthetic enjoyment, I turn to poetry and... yes, to philosophy. As I currently view it, philosophical speculation of the various philosophers is driven by a strong non-rational element peculiar to each of them. I am not sure if it would be too much to call it an inborn aesthetic tendency.
    – exp8j
    Nov 29, 2020 at 21:03

Metaphysics is a rather unfashiinable term and branch of philosophy nowadays. It is probably unwise to judge all philosophy by it.

Wittgenstein suggested philosophy is more like therapy, that helps us dispense with confusion & contradictions that arise due to language (mis)use. He saw it as identifying 'whereof we must remain silent', in which he included pretty much all of metaphysics.

Rorty argued against necessity & universality, leaving only a kind of value judgement about the pragmatic quality of a stance..

Writers like Camus & Nick Land blurred fiction & philosophy..

Few philosophers have done poetry. TS Eliot gets close to a kind of philosophy in Burnt Norton. Rumi is certainly an extremely deep thinker - Subtle Degrees & This Being Human and many other of his poems have very deep insights.

I would say poetry is about generating an experience, a feeling, in response to it. Whereas philosophy aims to examine the frames from which we decide what to do. That could for some thinkers be considered essentially an aesthetic choice, I'd say Nietzsche gets close to saying that, "the abyss also gazes into you" is about evoking an experience rather than asserting a truth, as we discussed here. But it's not the only approach. If some philosophers

Both existentialists, and mystic thinkers, focus on our personal experience and feelings, as of primary importance..

I think you will like this article, about the use of 'strange loops' in philosophy, which I feel kind of unites philosophy pictured as therapy, and a kind of aesthetic instinct to find a place beyond previous systems where there is a spaciousness of thought, from putting down old questions that are no longer being useful.

  • Thank you for your suggestions. As regards metaphysics of consciousness, I think it's a perennial question and further, quite relevant today with developing AI although most discussions are quite extravagant.
    – exp8j
    Nov 30, 2020 at 17:26
  • 1
    Subtle Degrees of Rumi is very deep & beautiful. Poems like this sometimes make me wonder what am I doing with philosophical treatises!
    – exp8j
    Nov 30, 2020 at 18:06
  • 1
    @exp8j: metaphysics is no longer relevant, when we have The Human Brain Project - it becomes not a matter for speculation, but hands-on research.
    – CriglCragl
    Dec 1, 2020 at 3:40

Aristotle believed that poetry and philosophy were more alike than they were to history, law, and factual accounts, since both seek truths or descriptions that are timeless--or, as Ezra Pound put it, "news that stays news."

Many early philosophers, such as Parmenides, wrote in verse, and this tradition continued up until Lucretius, at least. Nietzsche and Sartre wrote dramatic-poetic works, and poets like Dante, Donne, Blake, and Goethe wrote philosophical verse.

Though Plato's works can be quite poetic, he famously descried the philosophical poverty of the poets. His main target was Homer, whose heroes and gods portrayed impassioned, amoral actions, the very opposite of deliberation. And this shift away from verse and orality to the written word and dialectic was a crucial turn in philosophy.

Despite all this, I would say the two cannot really substitute for one another, unless we stretch definitions. It would be hard, perhaps impossible, to do good, innovative philosophy in poetic style and vice versa. Poetry may be good at synthesis, analysis not so much. While philosophy may use evocations and metaphors, it must strive for defined and explicit discourse.

Poetry, on the other hand, enriches itself according to how much can be left unsaid, elusive connections that we are forced to provide out of our own mental freedom without necessity or lawlike determinations. Poetry, as Dr. Johnson said of Milton, "delights to tread on the brink of meaning."

  • 1
    I share the view that in poetry we value elusive connections established through our mental freedom, while in philosophy we value clear, connected argumentation. But I think that in both we work with "beautiful analogies". But what is the exact source that is capable of generating these analogies? In poetry and philosophy that's not at all clear, whereas in mathematics it is; we have the logic of necessity, which from a few self-evident axioms generates a wealth of results.But perhaps the price we pay is the limited scope of "self-evident" axioms, as regards the totality of human concerns.
    – exp8j
    Dec 5, 2020 at 16:17
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    In philosophy and perhaps poetry, "logos" would be the axiomatic formula or motion, first named as such by Heraclitus. Hegel's "Science of Logic" and "Phenomenology of Spirit" are not everyone's cup of tea. But they are attempts to develop logical and ontological categories out of "spirit" or "self-consciousness." He categorizes the "shapes of consciousness" across history to demonstrate the necessity of their rational evolution out of undifferentiated consciousness. German idealism does wrestle with the "source" our logical and analogical creations. Dec 5, 2020 at 19:08

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