Aristotle on the Philosophical Nature of Poetry

The Classical Quarterly (New Series), Vol. 48, pp. 447-455, 1998

20 Pages Posted: 18 Jul 2010 Last revised: 6 Dec 2015

Date Written: January 17, 1998


In Poetics chapter 9, Aristotle famously claims that poetry is more philosophical than history. What does this mean? I argue that he is talking about the metaphysics of events. Poets seek causal coherence among the events in their stories. Historians must report what happened whether or not the events of history exhibit causal coherence. This makes the poet's job more philosophical than the historian's, for the poet is seeking a unified plot — an action-type — that serves as the backbone of the story he is trying to tell. The poet's final script is a token of an Aristotelian universal, the universal being an action-type that could have been fleshed out in many different ways, although with similar characters. Hence, the poet shows us what he thinks it is likely or necessary for agents of different types to do in the circumstances that confront them. Aristotelian mimesis, on this account, is the poetic representation of "one action," that is, of one action-type.

Keywords: Aristotle, Poetics, history, plot, poetry, mimesis

Suggested Citation

Armstrong, John M., Aristotle on the Philosophical Nature of Poetry (January 17, 1998). The Classical Quarterly (New Series), Vol. 48, pp. 447-455, 1998, Available at SSRN:

John M. Armstrong (Contact Author)

Southern Virginia University ( email )

One University Hill Drive
Buena Vista, VA 24416
United States


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