Philosophy in Verse, from A to Z


Earlier in the week we discussed the job market significance of alphabetical order, and just yesterday featured some poetry by philosophers, so what better way to round out the week than with a post that combines these things? Maybe a post that combines these things and fixes you a drink? OK, that would be better. But this is still pretty great.

Sarah Adams, a PhD student at Leeds, has written a philosophical abecedarium in verse: “An A-Z of Philosophy in Poetry.” It’s a work in progress, but there are some real gems in there. Here are two:

 

G is for Gettier Cases

A corridor and down it walked

A girl towards her twin

Sister who was walking and

Her actions mirroring

And as she saw her sister there

She waved so as to say

‘Hello’ to her counterpart

Who also did convey

A greeting by a wave of hand

Immediately back

So quickly it was just as if

No moment had elapsed

And so she laughed a mirthful laugh –

Coincidence it seemed

That as she smiled and said hello

The other likewise beamed.

And so she formed the firm belief

“My sister she is near”,

And justified was this belief,

Her vision – it was clear,

And lighting – this was also good,

Perceptual conditions right,

We could just say that nothing was

Defective with her sight.

And yet not only justified

This firm belief was true,

Indeed her twin was really there –

Was walking that way too.

And yet here comes a sorry twist,

An ending to this tale,

But also one that teaches us

No knowledge did prevail.

 

For while her thought was justified

She did not thereby know

Her counterpart was walking near

As further details show.

‘Cos when she saw an image there

It was not of her twin,

Rather it was of herself

In mirror, shimmering!

This meant it was mere happenstance

Her firm belief was true,

And although it was justified,

Its truth was lucky too.

Why? There was no causal link

From facts that did obtain,

About her sister’s being there

To that belief she’d gain.

So what this tale unearths to us,

Put in terms most brief:

Knowledge it cannot just be

True justified belief

*No twins were harmed in the making of this poem.

by Sarah Adams


 

P is for Parmenides

(or ‘A Poem About Parmenides’ Poem’)

 

Parmenides claimed “All is one!” –

The Earth, the moon, the stars, the sun.

But, this phrase is far too crude

To express what he did conclude:

That this world we do extol

Is one undifferentiated whole,

And never will it cease or perish,

This universe which we do cherish.

For what is now, at once, together

Shall remain unchanged forever.

Timeless, uniform and unchanging;

No parts has it for re-arranging.

Indivisible and all alike;

No less in one place which might

Prevent from binding it as one,

This – which to being did not come

For according to the doctrine stated

This whole it is un-generated.

Since no need had prompted it to grow;

No birth it had;

Nor the future will it know.

So it exists completely or not at all,

And nothing to it will befall.

But surely this view so controversial

Is unlikely to become commercial!

On the contrary dear reader,

Let me make to you much clearer,

Why such a view our man proposed,

When appearances it so opposed.

Now, ‘nothing’ can’t be by us thought:

Such activity is fraught.

What-is-not cannot be known

This way of inquiry was shown

To be a dead-end –

That-which-is can’t not be;

Being is of necessity!

This you will soon comprehend,

Just listen carefully my friend,

And from appearances deter,

And from reason do not err.

‘The way of truth’ we’ll call this path

Our Presocratic took to task.

It is the one way of inquiry

That shows us how things are precisely.

Only say ‘it is, it is!’

When the nature of the world we quiz.

But this way of his was painless not;

Frequently was this fellow mocked.

(Life is not easy to lead

When obscure views are paid due heed.)

His daily tasks were done in vain;

No progress did this wise man gain.

And troublesome was conversation,

Greeted with hostile intimation.

For an example let us consider

When Parmenides went to dinner.

A conversation had with his wife

(Which commonly was met with strife):

“Are you changed for tea, my dear?

We’re late already – get in gear!”

The sage replied in some confusion:

“Darling, change is mere illusion!”

by Sarah Adams

(Published in Think, 37, 2014, pp. 103-4)

Adams - G is for Gettier Cases excerpt

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