Another Defense of Poetry

Percy Bysshe Shelley’s A Defence of Poetry is a remarkable document, if for no other reason than its declaration that “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” With this claim, Shelley explicitly enters what Socrates calls the “ancient quarrel between poetry and philosophy,” ranking poetry above philosophy, or what we today would call “science.” P.B. Shelley saw that poetry’s reputation was suffering in the wake of the Enlightenment’s new Science, and therefore endeavored to reestablish its good name. For he understood that poetry must reassert its legislative role if we are to maintain a healthy, modern society.  In an attempt to assist in his project, this lecture by LIU Professor of Philosophy Shawn Welnak examines poetry’s prophetic role through the eyes of both Shelley himself as well as his intellectual forefathers.