Poetic Intuition: Spinoza and Gerard Manley Hopkins

Philosophy Today 57 (4):401-407 (2013)
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As one commentator notes, Spinoza’s conception of “the third kind of knowledge”—intuition, has been “regarded as exceptionally obscure. Some writers regard it as a kind of mystic vision; others regard it as simply unintelligible.” For Spinoza, the first kind of knowledge, which he calls “imagination,” is a kind of sense-experience of particulars; the second kind, which he calls “understanding,” involves the rational grasp of universals, and the third, in his words, “proceeds from an adequate idea of the formal essence of some of the attributes of God to an adequate knowledge of the essence of things.” In this essay I will attempt to show, through an explication of Spinoza’s concept of intuition, how a prime example of intuition can be found in the art of poetry. More specifically, I will examine resonances between the work of the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–1889) and Baruch de Spinoza (1632–1677) by exploring the ways in which Hopkins’ poetry can work as both (1) an exemplar of poetry qua Spinozistic intuition, and (2) an intuition-based access to Spinoza’s thought. The upshot of this essay, then, is that there is a kind of knowledge, and by implication a kind of education (through which to acquire that knowledge) which—even for a philosopher as mathematically rigorous as Spinoza—may require recourse to the art of poetry.

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Joshua M. Hall
University of Alabama, Birmingham


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