Ethics in Verse

Boston University Trustee Scholars are encouraged to develop well-informed and well-reasoned views of important political and social issues. The University neither expects nor wants Trustee Scholars to espouse all the same principles or commitments, but we do try to select students who have a sense of how to present persuasive arguments in support of their views. With that in mind, write an essay of no more than 600 words responding to the following: "Poetry is of greater ethical import than history since poetry relates more of the universal, while history relates the particulars." -Aristotle


Aristotle was wise to say that "poetry is of greater ethical import than history since poetry relates more of the universal, while history relates the particulars," for poetry can put one inside the universal body of human experience, while history, like a mirror, simply reflects to one the external details of that body. A poem is of "greater ethical import" because it has an ethos. Verses form around a deep universal truth that the poem is desperately trying to relate to humanity through particulars. History, however, is little more than the literal account of details, and so it is much more difficult to find the depths of human experience beneath the particulars of history than it is beneath the particulars of poetry. I have experienced this proof of Aristotle's claim, as poetry rather than history has infused me with the insight and emotion I need for a deeper ethical understanding of war.

I have never experienced war myself, and so any of my knowledge or understanding of it comes from outside sources. Reading about World War One in a history book, I would learn that fifty thousand American soldiers died in battle, and even more due to disease. But I would have a hard time imagining human beings into...

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