Philosophy and literature

Philosophy and literature involves the literary treatment of philosophers and philosophical themes (the literature of philosophy), and the philosophical treatment of issues raised by literature (the philosophy of literature).

Socrates Louvre
The Clouds by Aristophanes presented Socrates as a comic figure.

The philosophy of literature

Strictly speaking, the philosophy of literature is a branch of aesthetics, the branch of philosophy that deals with the question, "what is art"? Much of aesthetic philosophy has traditionally focused on the plastic arts or music, however, at the expense of the verbal arts. In fact, much traditional discussion of aesthetic philosophy seeks to establish criteria of artistic quality that are indifferent to the subject matter being depicted. Since all literary works, almost by definition, contain notional content, aesthetic theories that rely on purely formal qualities tend to overlook literature.

The very existence of narrative raises philosophical issues. In narrative, a creator can embody, and readers be led to imagine, fictional characters, and even fantastic creatures or technologies. The ability of the human mind to imagine, and even to experience empathy with, these fictional characters is itself revealing about the nature of the human mind. Some fiction can be thought of as a sort of a thought experiment in ethics: it describes fictional characters, their motives, their actions, and the consequences of their actions. It is in this light that some philosophers have chosen various narrative forms to teach their philosophy (see below).

Literature and language

Plato, for instance, believed that literary culture and even the lyrics of popular music had a strong impact on the ethical outlook of its consumers. In The Republic, Plato displays a strong hostility to the contents of the literary culture of his period, and proposes a strong censorship of popular literature in his utopia.

More recently, however, philosophers of various stripes have taken different and less hostile approaches to literature. Since the work of the British Empiricists and Immanuel Kant in the late eighteenth century, Western philosophy has been preoccupied with a fundamental question of epistemology: the question of the relationship between ideas in the human mind and the world existing outside the mind, if in fact such a world exists. In more recent years, these epistemological issues have turned instead to an extended discussion of words and meaning: can language in fact bridge the barrier between minds? This cluster of issues concerning the meaning of language and of "writings" sometimes goes by the name of the linguistic turn.

As such, techniques and tools developed for literary criticism and literary theory rose to greater prominence in Western philosophy of the late twentieth century. Philosophers of various stripes paid more attention to literature than their predecessors did. Some sought to examine the question of whether it was in fact truly possible to communicate using words, whether it was possible for an author's intended meaning to be communicated to a reader. Others sought to use literary works as examples of contemporary culture, and sought to reveal unconscious attitudes they felt present in these works for the purpose of social criticism.

The truth of fiction

Literary works also pose issues concerning truth and the philosophy of language. In educated opinion, at least, it is commonly reputed as true that Sherlock Holmes lived in London. (see David Lewis 'Truth in Fiction', American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 15. No. 1, January 1978) It is also considered true that Samuel Pepys lived in London. Yet Sherlock Holmes never lived anywhere at all; he is a fictional character. Samuel Pepys, contrarily, is judged to have been a real person. Contemporary interest in Holmes and in Pepys share strong similarities; the only reason why anyone knows either of their names is because of an abiding interest in reading about their alleged deeds and words. These two statements would appear to belong to two different orders of truth. Further problems arise concerning the truth value of statements about fictional worlds and characters that can be implied but are nowhere explicitly stated by the sources for our knowledge about them, such as Sherlock Holmes had only one head or Sherlock Holmes never travelled to the moon.

The literature of philosophy

Philosophical poems

A number of poets have written poems on philosophical themes, and some important philosophers have expressed their philosophy in verse. The cosmogony of Hesiod and the De Rerum Natura of Lucretius are important philosophical poems. The genre of epic poetry was also used to teach philosophy. Vyasa narrated the ancient Indian epic Mahabharata in order to teach Indian philosophy and Hindu philosophy. Homer also presented some philosophical teachings in his Odyssey.

Many of the Eastern philosophers worked out their thought in poetical fashion. Some of the important names include:

Notable Western philosophical poets include:

Philosophical fiction

Some philosophers have undertaken to write philosophy in the form of fiction, including novels and short stories (see separate article on philosophical fiction). This is apparent early on in the literature of philosophy, where philosophers such as Plato wrote dialogues in which fictional or fictionalized characters discuss philosophical subjects; Socrates frequently appears as a protagonist in Plato's dialogues, and the dialogues are one of the prime sources of knowledge about Socrates' teaching, though at this remove it is sometimes hard to distinguish Socrates' actual positions from Plato's own. Numerous early Christian writers, including Augustine, Boethius, and Peter Abelard produced dialogues; several early modern philosophers, such as George Berkeley and David Hume, wrote occasionally in this genre.

Other philosophers have resorted to narrative to get their teachings across. The classical 12th century Islamic philosopher, Abubacer (Ibn Tufail), wrote a fictional Arabic narrative Philosophus Autodidactus as a response to al-Ghazali's The Incoherence of the Philosophers, and then the 13th century Islamic theologian-philosopher Ibn al-Nafis also wrote a fictional narrative Theologus Autodidactus as a response to Abubacer's Philosophus Autodidactus. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche often articulated his ideas in literary modes, most notably in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, a re-imagined account of the teachings of Zoroaster. Marquis de Sade and Ayn Rand wrote novels in which characters served as mouthpieces for philosophical positions, and act in accordance with them in the plot. George Santayana was also a philosopher who wrote novels and poetry; the relationship between Santayana's characters and his beliefs is more complex. The existentialists include among their numbers important French authors who used fiction to convey their philosophical views; these include Jean-Paul Sartre's novel Nausea and play No Exit, and Albert Camus's The Stranger. Maurice Blanchot's entire fictional production, whose titles include The Step Not Beyond, The madness of the Day, and The Writing of Disaster, among others, constitutes an indispensable corpus for the treatment of the relationship between philosophy and literature. So does Jacques Derrida's The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond.

A number of philosophers have had important influence on literature. Arthur Schopenhauer, largely as a result of his system of aesthetics, is perhaps the most influential recent philosopher in the history of literature; Thomas Hardy's later novels frequently allude to Schopenhauerian themes, particularly in Jude the Obscure. Schopenhauer also had an important influence on Joseph Conrad. Schopenhauer also had a less specific but more widely diffused influence on the Symbolist movement in European literature. Lionel Johnson also refers to Schopenhauer's aesthetics in his essay The Cultured Faun. Jacques Derrida's entire oeuvre has been hugely influential for so-called continental philosophy and the understanding of the role of literature in modernity.

Other works of fiction considered to have philosophical content include:

Philosophical writing as literature

A number of philosophers are still read for the literary merits of their works apart from their philosophical content. The philosophy in the Meditations of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius is unoriginal Stoicism, but the Meditations are still read for their literary merit and for the insight they give into the workings of the emperor's mind.

Arthur Schopenhauer's philosophy is noted for the quality and readability of its prose, as are some of the works of the British Empiricists, such as Locke and Hume. Søren Kierkegaard's style is frequently regarded as poetic artistry as well as philosophical, especially in Fear and Trembling and Either/Or. Friedrich Nietzsche's works such as Thus Spoke Zarathustra frequently resemble prose poetry and contain imagery and allusion instead of argument.

Philosophy in literature

Philosophers in literature

Socrates appears in a highly fictionalized guise, as a comic figure and the object of mockery, in The Clouds by Aristophanes. In the play, Socrates appears hanging from a basket, where he delivers oracles such as:

I'd never come up with a single thing
about celestial phenomena,
if I did not suspend my mind up high,
to mix my subtle thoughts with what's like them—
the air. If I turned my mind to lofty things,
but stayed there on the ground, I'd never make
the least discovery. For the earth, you see,
draws moist thoughts down by force into itself—
the same process takes place with water cress.

Early Taoist philosopher Zhuang Zhou expressed his ideas primarily through short literary anecdotes and fables. The other major philosophers of the time appear as characters within these stories, allowing Zhuangzi to playfully explore their ideas and contrast them with his own, as he does with Laozi, Liezi, Hui Shi, and many others. Most prominently in his work is the presence of Confucius and his prominent disciples, who are sometimes used to undermine popular understandings of Confucian philosophy or to reinforce Zhuangzi's own understanding of how one lives in accordance with the Dao.

Jorge Luis Borges is perhaps the twentieth century's preeminent author of philosophical fiction. He wrote a short story in which the philosopher Averroes is the chief protagonist, Averroes's Search. Many plot points in his stories accurately paraphrase and epitomize the thought of major philosophers, including George Berkeley, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Bertrand Russell; he also attributes various opinions to figures including George Dalgarno.

A key plot point in Umberto Eco's novel The Name of the Rose turns on the discovery of a mysterious book that turns out to contain a lost manuscript by Aristotle. Eco's later novel Foucault's Pendulum became the forerunner of a run of thrillers or detective fiction that toss around learned allusions and the names of historical thinkers; more recent examples include Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code and The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason.

Also, Philip K. Dick, who has often been compared to Borges, raises a significant number of philosophical issues in his novels, everything from the problem of solipsism to many questions of perception and reality.

Fictional philosophers

Jorge Luis Borges introduces many philosophical themes, and a number of fictional philosophers, in his short stories. A fictional philosophical movement is a part of the premise of his story Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, and the unnamed narrator of his story The Library of Babel could also be called a fictional philosopher. A fictional theologian is the subject of his story Three Versions of Judas.

Fictional philosophers occasionally occur throughout the works of Robert A. Heinlein and Ray Bradbury. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land contains long passages that could be considered as successors to the fictionalized philosophical dialogues of the ancient world, set within the plot.

See also


  • The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, Ted Honderich, ed., (Oxford University Press, 1995) ISBN 0-19-866132-0
  • Borges, Jorge Luis, Collected Fictions, 1998. Translated by Andrew Hurley. ISBN 0-14-028680-2.
  • Magee, Bryan, The Philosophy of Schopenhauer (Oxford University Press, revised edition, 1977) ISBN 0-19-823722-7.

External links

Alejandro Serrano

Nicanor Alejandro Serrano Aguilar (born 13 January 1933 in Cuenca) is an Ecuadorian politician and sports leader.

Serrano was Vice President of Ecuador from May 5, 2005 to January 15, 2007. National Congress of Ecuador elected him to fill vacancy of Vicepresidency when Alfredo Palacio became President of Ecuador. Serrano has been a mayor, councilman, sports leader and civil engineer.Serrano educated at Escuela de los Hermanos Cristianos, then went on to junior and senior high school at the Colegio de los Padres Jesuitas. Completion of secondary education, he entered the Faculty of Philosophy and Literature at the University of Cuenca, and then to the Faculty of Civil Engineering at the same university. He holds two Ph.D. degrees are in Philosophy and Literature and engineers in civil engineering.

Serrano had worked as a lecturer at several schools, namely in Coegio Rafael Borja, Colegio Benigno Malo, Garaicoa Colegio, Colegio Rosa de Jesús Cordero, Colegio Fray Vicente Solano (served as president), then served as dean of the Faculty of Philosophy and Literature at the University of Cuenca and also taught at the Faculty of Law, University del Azuay in society. Serrano has served as a board member of Canton Cuenca and later as a member of the House of Representatives at the provincial level in the province of Azuay. Later he was elected governor of the Azuay Province and then twice served as provincial deputy in the National Parliament. Serrano also has served as mayor of Cuenca. Serrano is married and has four children.

Arsha Vidya Gurukulam

Arsha Vidya Gurukulam are a pair of institutions for Vedic teaching founded by Dayananda Saraswati. The two main centers are located at Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania and in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, with the sister institution Arsha Vidya Ashram located in Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, and over 60 other centres in India and abroad. The name literally translates as residential learning for the knowledge of rishis (sages).The Saylorsburg campus was established in 1986, and the Coimbatore center in 1990. The goal at the time of formation was to emulate academic institutions with the focus on study of Advaita Vedanta, the Vedas, and other ancient Sanskrit texts, in contrast to the practice of yoga and meditation taught by other similar institutions. Since then the institutes have added teaching of hatha yoga, ayurveda, astrology, meditation and other traditional Indian disciplines to the curriculum. Courses range in duration from a single-weekend to three years, and instruction is in English, though advanced students study the original texts in Sanskrit.The centers run an outreach program called All India Movement (AIM) for seva (service) and a publication house that produces books on Vedanta, Hinduism, Hindu philosophy and literature, Paninian grammar, Indian history and related subjects. Several students and sanyassis (renunciates) who have studied at the centres, have gone on to spread Dayananda's teachings elsewhere and some have established ashrams of their own.

Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon

The Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL) is a German biographical encyclopedia covering persons related to the history of the church, philosophy and literature, founded 1975 by Friedrich Wilhelm Bautz.

It features about 20,000 articles, many of which used to be freely available online. At present access is pay-only.

Cora Diamond

Cora Diamond (born 1937) is an American philosopher who works on Ludwig Wittgenstein, Gottlob Frege, moral philosophy, political philosophy, philosophy of language, and philosophy and literature. She is currently the Kenan Professor of Philosophy Emerita at the University of Virginia.

Darwinian literary studies

Darwinian literary studies (also known as literary Darwinism) is a branch of literary criticism that studies literature in the context of evolution by means of natural selection, including gene-culture coevolution. It represents an emerging trend of neo-Darwinian thought in intellectual disciplines beyond those traditionally considered as evolutionary biology: evolutionary psychology, evolutionary anthropology, behavioral ecology, evolutionary developmental psychology, cognitive psychology, affective neuroscience, behavioural genetics, evolutionary epistemology, and other such disciplines.

International Association for Philosophy and Literature

The International Association for Philosophy and Literature (IAPL), founded in 1976 by Hugh J. Silverman, brought together thinkers and scholars working in a wide range of disciplines concerned with the study of philosophical, historical, critical, and theoretical issues. The IAPL was dedicated to the exchange of ideas and to the enhancement of scholarly research in the arts and the humanities. The IAPL provided an opportunity to engage in discussion at the intersections of philosophical, literary, cultural, textual, visual, medial, art, and aesthetic theories. With its focus on interdisciplinary topics and commitments, the IAPL played a role in the articulation of vital and exciting recent developments in philosophy, literature, and the arts.

Since Hugh J. Silverman's death in 2013* Obituary, the IAPL has continued as an organization and has published volumes related to previous conferences but has, until 2018, refrained from organizing conferences. In 2018 the IAPL relaunched as The Association for Philosophy and Literature (APL).

Jacob Golomb

Jacob Golomb (Hebrew: יעקב גולומב) is a professor of philosophy at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

He specializes in Continental philosophy of the 19th and 20th centuries, phenomenology, hermeneutics, psychoanalysis, philosophy and literature; Philosophy of Zionism and Jewish modern philosophy. Professor Golomb is currently acting as the Philosophical Editor of the Hebrew University Magnes Press and is a member of its academic committee.

Kingston University

Kingston University London (abbreviated KUL) is a public research university located within the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames, in South West London, United Kingdom. The university specialises in the arts, design, fashion, science, engineering, and business. It received university status in 1992, before which the institution was known as Kingston Polytechnic. Its roots, however, go back to the Kingston Technical Institute, founded in 1899. The university has four campuses situated in Kingston and Roehampton.

Kingston University London, is a member of the Association of MBAs, the European University Association and the Association of Commonwealth Universities.


The Lunheng, also known by numerous English translations, is a wide-ranging Chinese classic text by Wang Chong (27- c. 100 CE). First published in 80 CE, it contains critical essays on natural science and Chinese mythology, philosophy, and literature.

Minoru Hara

Minoru Hara (原 實, Hara Minoru) is a Japanese writer, Indologist, philologist, and a scholar of Sanskrit and Buddhist literature and philosophy.

Poola Tirupati Raju

Poolla Tirupati Raju (3 September 1904 – 1992) was an Indian writer, philosopher, academic and a former professor of Jaswant College, Jodhpur (present day Jai Narain Vyas University. He was the author of several books, both in English and Telugu, on Indian philosophy and literature. His publications include Structural Depths of Indian Thought Telugu Literature, The Philosophical Traditions of India Introduction to Comparative Philosophy and Idealistic Thought of India. He was the editor of The Concept of Man: A Study in Comparative Philosophy, written by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. The Government of India awarded him the third highest civilian honour of the Padma Bhushan, in 1958, for his contributions to Literature and education.He played important part in the modern development of comparative philosophy and brought out Indian philosophy to the attention of the American academy.

Qin dynasty

The Qin dynasty (Chinese: 秦朝; pinyin: Qíncháo; Wade–Giles: Chʻin²-chʻao²) was the first dynasty of Imperial China, lasting from 221 to 206 BC. Named for its heartland in Qin state (modern Gansu and Shaanxi), the dynasty was founded by Qin Shi Huang, the First Emperor of Qin. The strength of the Qin state was greatly increased by the Legalist reforms of Shang Yang in the fourth century BC, during the Warring States period. In the mid and late third century BC, the Qin state carried out a series of swift conquests, first ending the powerless Zhou dynasty, and eventually conquering the other six of the Seven Warring States. Its 15 years was the shortest major dynasty in Chinese history, consisting of only two emperors, but inaugurated an imperial system that lasted from 221 BC, with interruption and adaptation, until 1912 CE.

The Qin sought to create a state unified by structured centralized political power and a large military supported by a stable economy. The central government moved to undercut aristocrats and landowners to gain direct administrative control over the peasantry, who comprised the overwhelming majority of the population and labour force. This allowed ambitious projects involving three hundred thousand peasants and convicts, such as connecting walls along the northern border, eventually developing into the Great Wall of China.The Qin introduced a range of reforms such as standardized currency, weights, measures, and a uniform system of writing, which aimed to unify the state and promote commerce. Additionally, its military used the most recent weaponry, transportation, and tactics, though the government was heavy-handedly bureaucratic. Han dynasty Confucians portrayed the legalistic Qin dynasty as a monolithic tyranny, notably citing a purge known as the burning of books and burying of scholars although some modern scholars dispute the veracity of these accounts.

When the first emperor died in 210 BC, two of his advisers placed an heir on the throne in an attempt to influence and control the administration of the dynasty. These advisors squabbled among themselves, resulting in both of their deaths and that of the second Qin Emperor. Popular revolt broke out and the weakened empire soon fell to a Chu general, Xiang Yu, who was proclaimed Hegemon-King of Western Chu, and Liu Bang, who later founded the Han dynasty. Despite its short reign, the dynasty greatly influenced the future of China, particularly the Han, and its name is thought to be the origin of the European name for China.

School of Philosophy and Letters, UNAM

The Facultad de Filosofía y Letras (School of Philosophy and Literature) or FFyL of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) administers eleven divisions of the humanities offering undergraduate and graduate degrees. The Department is one of the largest, and most renowned, literature faculties in the Spanish-speaking world; the Alma Mater of Nobel Laureate Octavio Paz and a number of other important figures in Latin American literature.

Slow reading

Slow reading is the intentional reduction in the speed of reading, carried out to increase comprehension or pleasure. The concept appears to have originated in the study of philosophy and literature as a technique to more fully comprehend and appreciate a complex text. More recently, there has been increased interest in slow reading as result of the slow movement and its focus on decelerating the pace of modern life.

Solas Festival

Solas Festival is an annual music festival, held in Scotland, since 2010. The festival also comprises elements of poetry, art, politics, dance, philosophy and literature.Described as a "wee Woodstock," the festival is associated with Creative Scotland, Scottish Refugee Week and Christian Aid.The first three festivals were held in the village of Wiston. From 2013 the festival has been held at the Bield at Blackruthven near Perth.

Uxío Novoneyra

Eugenio Novo Neira known as Uxío Novoneyra (Parada de Moreda, Courel, 19 January 1930 – Santiago de Compostela, 30 October 1999) was a Galician poet, journalist and writer of children's literature from Galicia, Spain.

He was born into a farming family. He started writing poems when he was at high school in Lugo. He went on to study Philosophy and Literature in Madrid. In 1951, he began publishing in Galician language. In 1962, he began working in TV and radio in Madrid. In 1973, he married Elva Rey and they had three children. In 1983 he moved to Santiago de Compostela where he worked for the Association of Writers in the Galician Language until he died in 1999. In his works, he expresses his nationalist and Marxist views through intricate poetic patterns.

Vicenç Mateu Zamora

Viçenc Mateu Zamora (born 3 December 1961) is an Andorran diplomat and politician. He is the General Syndic (speaker) of General Council, Andorra's unicameral legislative body. He has a doctoral degree in Philosophy, Master in Business Administration (MBA) and also studied law. He worked as a professor of philosophy and literature at San Ermengol School and UNED. He was the Andorra ambassador to Spain and France, delegate to UNESCO. He was Secretary General of the Ministry of Technical Education, Culture and Youth (1990-91), and founding member of the National Democratic Initiative (IDN), the national leader of IDN (1993, 1996), general counsel for two terms (1994-1997 and 1997-2001) and founding member of New Centre (NC).

Walter Kaufmann (philosopher)

Walter Arnold Kaufmann (July 1, 1921 – September 4, 1980) was a German-American philosopher, translator, and poet. A prolific author, he wrote extensively on a broad range of subjects, such as authenticity and death, moral philosophy and existentialism, theism and atheism, Christianity and Judaism, as well as philosophy and literature. He served more than 30 years as a professor at Princeton University.

He is renowned as a scholar and translator of Friedrich Nietzsche. He also wrote a 1965 book on Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and published a translation of Goethe's Faust.


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