The Philosophy of Poetry
The topic of this year's Phil 545 seminar will be the philosophy of poetry. Poetry is, remarkably, one arena of artistic practice that philosophers have largely neglected. As John Gibson put it" "Until very recently, one could fairly say that poetry is the last great unexplored frontier in contemporary analytic aesthetics, an ancient and central art we have managed to overlook more or less entirely." In this course, we will examine a substantial number of recent essays dealing with problems of poetic meaning, authorial intent, paraphrasis, intersubjective appraisal, experience-making, and truth. We will also explore both the question of what philosophy can contribute to the understanding of poetry and the question of what poetry can contribute to philosophy. T.S. Eliot once said: "The effort of the philosopher proper, the person who is trying to deal with ideas in themselves, and the effort of the poet who may be trying to realize ideas, cannot be carried on at the same time. But this is not to deny that poetry can be in some sense philosophic. The poet can deal with philosophic ideas, not as matter for argument, but as matter for inspection.... Poetry can deal with this idea when it has become almost a physical modification." We will analyze and test that claim. Among the authors we will read are Simon Blackburn, Richard Eldridge, Peter Lamarque, Sherri Ervin, Jesse Prinz, and Ronald de Sousa. We will examine various specimen poems--grand and awful, old and new, profound and silly.
There will be no examinations. Each seminar participant will be required to serve as "session expert" for one of our meetings, identifying the main point or points in the week's assigned reading, offering a poetic illustration or two from to help us see the issues under debate, and pointing out problems or questions the reading raises. All students will write term papers 13-17 pages in length, presenting careful reflection and argument regarding materials under discussion in this course. There will be no final exam. The seminar is open to UW graduate students as well as senior philosophy majors eligible for honors upon graduation (with the instructor's permission).
TEXT: The Philosophy of Poetry, John Gibson, ed.