Poetical Animals: Aristotle, Anthropology, and Poetry




Funded by: The Leverhulme Trust  between 2011-2012

Human beings produce and consume poetry. That behaviour is unique to humans: no other animals do it. It is also universal among humans, in the qualified sense that it is distributed across most, if not all, human cultures. Aristotle, who described humans as ‘by nature political animals’, could also have described them as by nature poetical. But a statement of what makes humans poetical does not tell us why poetry is important to humans, nor why it should be important to us: that is, what is poetry’s value?

This project’s primary objective is to reconstruct Aristotle’s understanding of poetry as a natural human behaviour, and of its place in human life. But it therefore also, necessarily, has the objective of reconstructing Aristotle’s anthropology. Poetry is a natural and unique human behaviour that plays a salient role in human cultures without having the all-encompassing role of politics and ethics, and is therefore a promising candidate for a case-study in Aristotelian anthropology of manageable scope. The first section provides the groundwork for an overview of Aristotle’s general anthropology; the second section develops the particular anthropology of poetry. Aristotle argues that living well requires a capacity to judge correctly things that are (for humans) worth choosing for their own sake; this conception of intrinsic valuable activities makes cultivated leisure central to Aristotle’s conception of living well; that in turn  underpins Aristotle’s understanding the place of poetry in human life.

Publications and outputs

‘Aristotle and the value of tragedy’, British Journal of Aesthetics 54 (2014), 111-123

‘Unity, wholeness and proportion’, in P. Destrée and P. Murray (ed.), A Companion to Ancient Aesthetics (Oxford: Blackwell, 2015), 381-92

‘Aristotle on the best kind of tragic plot: re-reading Poetics 13-14’, in R. Polansky and W. Wians (ed.), Reading Aristotle: Exposition and Argument (Leiden: Brill, 2017), 334-51

‘Reading the Poetics in context’, in P. Destrée, M. Heath and D.L. Munteanu, The Poetics in its Aristotelian Context (proposal submitted to Routledge)

Poetical Animals: Aristotle, Anthropology, and Poetry (monograph, in preparation)