Literary Theory Is The Kinetic Philosophy Of Literature Concerned With The Epistemological Function Of Texts
Literary theory is the kinetic philosophy of literature concerned with the epistemological function of texts. In its
broadest sense, literary theory is a conceptual discourse examining the relationship of texts or signs to literature.
Because of its taxonomic properties it is often considered to be synonymous with Literary criticism. While literary
theory is often used interchangeably with literary criticism as an umbrella term for the various schools of thought
prescribing specific approaches for the interpretation of text, theory distinguishes itself from criticism in that it seeks
to make neutral observations of literature.
The word theory has a number of distinct meanings in different fields of knowledge, depending on their
methodologies and the context of discussion.
In science, a theory is a mathematical or logical explanation, or a testable model of the manner of interaction of a set
of natural phenomena, capable of predicting future occurrences or observations of the same kind, and capable of
being tested through experiment or otherwise falsified through empirical observation. It follows from this that for
scientists quot;theoryquot; and quot;factquot; do not necessarily stand in opposition. For example, it is a fact that an apple dropped
on earth has been observed to fall towards the center of the planet, and the theories commonly used to describe and
explain this behavior are Newton's theory of universal gravitation (see also gravitation), and the theory of general
In common usage, the word theory is often used to signify a conjecture, an opinion, or a speculation. In this usage, a
theory is not necessarily based on facts; in other words, it is not required to be consistent with true descriptions of
reality. This usage of theory leads to the common incorrect statements. True descriptions of reality are more
reflectively understood as statements which would be true independently of what people think about them.
According to the National Academy of Sciences,
Some scientific explanations are so well established that no new evidence is likely to alter them. The explanation
becomes a scientific theory. In everyday language a theory means a hunch or speculation. Not so in science. In
science, the word theory refers to a comprehensive explanation of an important feature of nature that is supported by
many facts gathered over time. Theories also allow scientists to make predictions about as yet unobserved
phenomena. Philosophy is the discipline concerned with questions of how one should live (ethics); what sorts of
things exist and what are their essential natures (metaphysics); what counts as genuine knowledge (epistemology);
and what are the correct principles of reasoning (logic). The word is of Greek origin: φιλοσοφία (philosophía),
meaning love of wisdom.
Definition of philosophy
Main article: Definition of philosophy
No single definition of philosophy is uncontroversial.The field has historically expanded and changed depending
upon what kinds of questions were interesting or relevant in a given era. It is generally agreed that philosophy is a
method, rather than a set of claims, propositions, or theories. Its investigations are based upon rational thinking,
striving to make no unexamined assumptions and no leaps based on faith or pure analogy. Different philosophers
have had varied ideas about the nature of reason.
There is also disagreement about the subject matter of philosophy. Some think that philosophy examines the process
of inquiry itself. Others, that there are essentially philosophical propositions which it is the task of philosophy to
Although the word quot;philosophyquot; originates in the Western tradition, many figures in the history of other cultures
have addressed similar topics in similar ways. The philosophers of East and South Asia are discussed in Eastern
philosophy, while the philosophers of North Africa and the Middle East, because of their strong interactions with
Europe, are usually considered part of Western Philosophy.
The definition of philosophy is a difficult matter, and many definitions of philosophy begin by stating its difficulty.
A review of standard reference works suggests that there is a broad agreement among the philosophers who write
these reference works, as to what the definition actually is. This article lists the main points of agreement, and points
of disagreement where notable. Some describe philosophy as the art of saying, not doing, talking about action, not
taking action, theorizing, and not utilizing; the art of being unproductive, not productive.
1. Philosophy is difficult to define. The Oxford Companion to Philosophy () says that most interesting
definitions of philosophy are controversial. Philosophy: The Basics () says it is quot;notoriously difficultquot;.
Mastering Philosophy  says there is quot;no straightforward definitionquot;.
2. Method: The Penguin Dictionary of Philosophy () says the method of philosophy is rational enquiry, or
enquiry guided by the canons of rationality. OCP says it is explicitly rationally critical thinking 'of a more
or less systematic kind'. The Collins English Dictionary () mentions the use of 'rational
argument'. Modern Thomistic Philosophy () says 'natural light of reason'. PTB says that the
most distinctive feature of philosophy is its use of logical argument. There is some agreement, therefore,
that the philosophical method is rational, systematic and critical, or characterised by logical argument.
3. Intrinsic Character:
Philosophy can be distinguished from empirical science and religion. The Penguin Encyclopedia
() says that philosophy differs from science in that its questions cannot be
answered empirically, i.e. by observation or experiment, and from religion, in that its purpose is
entirely intellectual, and allows no place for faith or revelation. MTP says philosophy does not try
to answer questions by appeal to revelation, myth or religious knowledge of any kind, but uses
reason, quot;without reference to sensible observation and experimentsquot;. By contrast, The Oxford
Dictionary of Philosophy states that quot;the late 20th-century... prefers to see philosophical reflection
as continuous with the best practice of any field of intellectual enquiry.quot;
'Second-order' nature: PDP says it is a quot;common viewquot; that philosophy enquiry is second order,
having concepts, theories and presupposition as its subject matter. OCP says it is quot;thinking about
thinkingquot;, and that philosophy has a quot;generally second-order characterquot;, being reflective thought
about particular kinds of thinking. ODP says that in philosophy we study rather than use the
concepts that structure our thinking, and that this is second-order reflection. The ODP admits that
philosophy has a second-order character, but also warns that quot;the borderline between such 'second-
order' reflection, and ways of practising the first-order discipline itself, is not always clear:
philosophical problems may be tamed by the advance of a discipline, and the conduct of a
discipline may be swayed by philosophical reflectionquot;. TYP also uses the expression 'second-
Misleading etymology: Only PE gives quot;Love of wisdomquot; as a possible meaning. PTB says the
etymology is quot;not much helpquot;. Other works mention the etymology without saying that it exhausts
the meaning of the term. [The term philosophy is translated from Greek as quot;Love of wisdomquot;] [A
philosopher argues; that wisdom exists, or that knowledge can be attained.]
Critical nature: OCP says philosophy is critical thinking. PTB says that philosophy examines the
beliefs we take for granted. ERHP says quot;in English-speaking philosophy (and much European
philosophy too) you are taught not to take anything on trust, particularly if it seems obvious and
What it is not: PTB says philosophy is NOT mysticism or about outlook on life.
4. Subject matter: PDP says the subject matter of philosophy is quot;the most fundamental and general concepts
and principles involved in thought, action and realityquot;. PE says quot;the most general questions about our
universe and our place in itquot;. MTP: The quot;absolutely fundamental reason of everything it investigatesquot; or
quot;the fundamental reasons or causes of all thingsquot;. CED lists the branches of philosophy (see below). ODP
says it is the investigation of the most general and abstract features of the world and the categories with
which we think, in order to quot;lay bare their foundations and presuppositionsquot;. MP says it is the study of
ultimate reality. TYP says that philosophy is about 'the big questions'.
5. Branches: These are metaphysics (PE, OCP, MTP, CED, IP) epistemology (CED, MTP, OCP, IP), ethics
(OCP, MTP, IP, CED), logic or semantics (PE, CED), cosmology (MTP), theory of mind (MTP), political
philosophy (IP), aesthetics (IP). Hence there is a broad agreement that metaphysics, epistemology and
ethics and possibly logic are the main branches of philosophy.
6. Goals: PDP says the goals of philosophy are quot;the disinterested pursuit of knowledge for its own sakequot;.
MTP says quot;to discover the absolutely fundamental reason of everything it investigatesquot;. CED says quot;making
explicit the nature and significance of ordinary and scientific beliefsquot;. MP says the purpose of philosophy is
to unify and transcend the insights given by science and religion
 Literary theory and literature
One of the fundamental questions of literary theory is quot;What is literature?quot;, though many contemporary theorists and
literary scholars believe either that quot;literaturequot; cannot be defined or that it can refer to any use of language. Specific
theories are distinguished not only by their methods and conclusions, but even by how they define a quot;text.quot; For some
scholars of literature, quot;textsquot; comprises little more than quot;books belonging to the Western literary canon.quot; But the
principles and methods of literary theory have been applied to non-fiction, popular fiction, film, historical
documents, law, advertising, etc., in the related field of cultural studies. In fact, some scholars within cultural studies
treat cultural events, like fashion or football riots, as quot;textsquot; to be interpreted. By this measure, literary theory can be
thought of as the general theory of interpretation.
Since theorists of literature often draw on a very heterogeneous tradition of Continental philosophy and the
philosophy of language, any classification of their approaches is only an approximation. There are many quot;schoolsquot;
or types of literary theory, which take different approaches to understanding texts. Most theorists, even among those
listed below, combine methods from more than one of these approaches (for instance, the deconstructive approach
of Paul de Man drew on a long tradition of close reading pioneered by the New Critics, and de Man was trained in
the European hermeneutic tradition).
Broad schools of theory that have historically been important include the New Criticism, formalism, Russian
formalism, and structuralism, post-structuralism, Marxism, feminism and French feminism, Christian, post-
colonialism, new historicism, deconstruction, reader-response criticism, and psychoanalytic criticism.
1. A means or manner of procedure, especially a regular and systematic way of accomplishing something: a simple
method for making a pie crust; mediation as a method of solving disputes. See Usage Note at methodology.
2. Orderly arrangement of parts or steps to accomplish an end: random efforts that lack method.
3. The procedures and techniques characteristic of a particular discipline or field of knowledge: This field course
gives an overview of archaeological method.
4. Method A technique of acting in which the actor recalls emotions and reactions from past experience and uses
them in identifying with and individualizing the character being portrayed.
1. The act of criticizing, especially adversely.
2. A critical comment or judgment.
a. The practice of analyzing, classifying, interpreting, or evaluating literary or other artistic works.
b. A critical article or essay; a critique.
c. The investigation of the origin and history of literary documents; textual criticism.
Aristotle's theory of imitation
Aristotle did not invent the term “imitation”. Plato was the first to use the word in relation with poetry, but Aristotle
breathed into it a new definite meaning. So poetic imitation is no longer considered mimicry, but is regarded as an
act of imaginative creation by which the poet, drawing his material from the phenomenal world, makes something
new out of it.
In Aristotle's view, principle of imitation unites poetry with other fine arts and is the common basis of all the fine
arts. It thus differentiates the fine arts from the other category of arts. While Plato equated poetry with painting,
Aristotle equates it with music. It is no longer a servile depiction of the appearance of things, but it becomes a
representation of the passions and emotions of men which are also imitated by music. Thus Aristotle by his theory
enlarged the scope of imitation. The poet imitates not the surface of things but the reality embedded within. In the
very first chapter of the Poetic, Aristotle says:
“Epic poetry and Tragedy, Comedy also and Dithyrambic poetry, as also the music of the flute and the lyre in
most of their forms, are in their general conception modes of imitation. They differ however, from one another
in three respects – their medium, the objects and the manner or mode of imitation, being in each case distinct.”
The medium of the poet and the painter are different. One imitates through form and colour, and the other through
language, rhythm and harmony. The musician imitates through rhythm and harmony. Thus, poetry is more akin to
music. Further, the manner of a poet may be purely narrative, as in the Epic, or depiction through action, as in
drama. Even dramatic poetry is differentiated into tragedy and comedy accordingly as it imitates man as better or
Aristotle says that the objects of poetic imitation are “men in action”. The poet represents men as worse than they
are. He can represent men better than in real life based on material supplied by history and legend rather than by any
living figure. The poet selects and orders his material and recreates reality. He brings order out of Chaos. The
irrational or accidental is removed and attention is focused on the lasting and the significant. Thus he gives a truth of
an ideal kind. His mind is not tied to reality:
“It is not the function of the poet to relate what has happened but what may happen – according to the laws of
probability or necessity.”
History tells us what actually happened; poetry what may happen. Poetry tends to express the universal, history the
particular. In this way, he exhibits the superiority of poetry over history. The poet freed from the tyranny of facts,
takes a larger or general view of things, represents the universal in the particular and so shares the philosopher’s
quest for ultimate truth. He thus equates poetry with philosophy and shows that both are means to a higher truth. By
the word ‘universal’ Aristotle signifies:
“How a person of a certain nature or type will, on a particular occasion, speak or act, according to the law of
probability or necessity.”
The poet constantly rises from the particular to the general. He studies the particular and devises principles of
general application. He exceeds the limits of life without violating the essential laws of human nature.
Elsewhere Aristotle says, “Art imitates Nature”. By ‘Nature’ he does not mean the outer world of created things but
“the creative force, the productive principle of the universe.” Art reproduce mainly an inward process, a physical
energy working outwards, deeds, incidents, situation, being included under it so far as these spring from an inward,
act of will, or draw some activity of thought or feeling. He renders men, “as they ought to be”.
The poet imitates the creative process of nature, but the objects are “men in action”. Now the ‘action’ may be
‘external’ or ‘internal’. It may be the action within the soul caused by all that befalls a man. Thus, he brings human
experiences, emotions and passions within the scope of poetic imitation. According to Aristotle's theory, moral
qualities, characteristics, the permanent temper of the mind, the temporary emotions and feelings, are all action and
so objects of poetic imitation.
Poetry may imitate men as better or worse than they are in real life or imitate as they really are. Tragedy and epic
represent men on a heroic scale, better than they are, and comedy represents men of a lower type, worse than they
are. Aristotle does not discuss the third possibility. It means that poetry does not aim at photographic realism. In this
connection R. A. Scott-James points out that:
“Aristotle knew nothing of the “realistic” or “fleshy” school of fiction – the school of Zola or of Gissing.”
Abercrombie, in contrast, defends Aristotle for not discussing the third variant. He says:
“It is just possible to imagine life exactly as it is, but the exciting thing is to imagine life as it might be, and it is
then that imagination becomes an impulse capable of inspiring poetry.”
Aristotle by his theory of imitation answers the charge of Plato that poetry is an imitation of “shadow of shadows”,
thrice removed from truth, and that the poet beguiles us with lies. Plato condemned poetry that in the very nature of
things poets have no idea of truth. The phenomenal world is not the reality but a copy of the reality in the mind of
the Supreme. The poet imitates the objects and phenomena of the world, which are shadowy and unreal. Poetry is,
therefore, “the mother of lies”.
Aristotle, on the contrary, tells us that art imitates not the mere shows of things, but the ‘ideal reality’ embodied in
very object of the world. The process of nature is a ‘creative process’; everywhere in ‘nature there is a ceaseless and
upward progress’ in everything, and the poet imitates this upward movement of nature. Art reproduces the original
not as it is, but as it appears to the senses. Art moves in a world of images, and reproduces the external, according to
the idea or image in his mind. Thus the poet does not copy the external world, but creates according to his ‘idea’ of
it. Thus even an ugly object well-imitated becomes a source of pleasure. We are told in “The Poetics”:
“Objects which in themselves we view with pain, we delight to contemplate when reproduced with minute
fidelity; such as the forms of the most ignoble animals and dead bodies.”
The real and the ideal from Aristotle's point of view are not opposites; the ideal is the real, shorn of chance and
accident, a purified form of reality. And it is this higher ‘reality’ which is the object of poetic imitation. Idealization
is achieved by divesting the real of all that is accidental, transient and particular. Poetry thus imitates the ideal and
the universal; it is an “idealized representation of character, emotion, action – under forms manifest in sense.” Poetic
truth, therefore, is higher than historical truth. Poetry is more philosophical, more conducive to understanding than
Thus Aristotle successfully and finally refuted the charge of Plato and provided a defence of poetry which has ever
since been used by lovers of poetry in justification of their Muse. He breathed new life and soul into the concept of
poetic imitation and showed that it is, in reality, a creative process.
Diff b/w text and discource:
Text is something written. Discourse is conversation (written or spoken).
1. A set of statements or principles devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena, especially one that has been
repeatedly tested or is widely accepted and can be used to make predictions about natural phenomena.
2. The branch of a science or art consisting of its explanatory statements, accepted principles, and methods of
analysis, as opposed to practice: a fine musician who had never studied theory.
3. A set of theorems that constitute a systematic view of a branch of mathematics.
4. Abstract reasoning; speculation: a decision based on experience rather than theory.
5. A belief or principle that guides action or assists comprehension or judgment: staked out the house on the theory
that criminals usually return to the scene of the crime.
6. An assumption based on limited information or knowledge; a conjecture.
[Late Latin the ria, from Greek the ri
, from the ros, spectator : probably the
, a viewing + -oros, seeing (from hor n, to see).]
theory (th -r
, thîr )
A set of statements or principles devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena. Most theories that are accepted
by scientists have been repeatedly tested by experiments and can be used to make predictions about natural
phenomena. See Note at hypothesis.