chapter  44
11 Pages

Literature

ByDOUGLAS HEDLEY

It is easy to forget that we possess different literary genres of philosophical writing. The fragments of pre-Socratic philosophers like Parmenides and Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura are in poetic form. By contrast, some poems have a clearly philosophical component. Wordsworth’s Prelude, for example, is a philosophically informed protest against the kind of mechanical materialism that was pervasive in eighteenth-and nineteenthcentury British thought. But since philosophy is based upon argument and “providing justification or reason” (Plato’s logon didonai, Republic VII 534), prose is generally the preferred medium. A more serious question pertains to the truth component. In Book Ten of the Republic Plato banishes poets from the Republic because they are liars. Here we encounter Plato’s notorious “old quarrel between philosophy and poetry” (Republic, 607b5-6).