Teaching Philosophy


published on June 26, 2014

Hub Zwart

What Is Nature?
On the Use of Poetry in Philosophy Courses for Science Students

“Nature” is one of the most challenging concepts in philosophy, and notoriously difficult to define. In ancient Greece, two strategies for coming to terms with nature were developed. On the one hand, nature was seen as a perfect geometrical order, analysable with the help of geometry and deductive reasoning. On the other hand, a more Dionysian view emerged, stressing nature’s unpredictability, capriciousness and fluidity. This view was exemplified by De Rerum Natura, a philosophical masterpiece in verse. In a philosophy course for science students, participants use both approaches. They are asked to give a definition of nature, and subsequently to capture nature in a poem. Quite consistently, their poetry proves more convincing than their definitions. In this paper, an anthology of student poetry is presented and analysed. To what extent may verse-writing as a philosophical assignment enable science students to come to terms with their (implicit) understanding of nature?