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Thread: Literature: a form of Philosophy?

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    Registered User MiSaNtHrOpE's Avatar
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    Literature: a form of Philosophy?

    Is literature a form of philosophy? Instead of engaging in a debate about certain topics, authors of literature write naratives to illustrate their points. I, personally, believe that a lot of what I read about is, in fact, true about society. Do you believe that this qualifies as Philosophy?
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    learning IrishCanadian's Avatar
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    No. However, literature often harbours philosophy thus making the author a philosopher. Aldous Huxley, Ayn Rand . . . the list is endless. But look at Charles Dickens, Edger Allan Poe, . . . the list of writers for writing's sake is endless too. Philosophy may be a form of literature but definitely not the other way around.
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    avatar by John Pickman Wendigo_49's Avatar
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    I think philosophy can be literature. I also think for authors it can be intentional and unintentional. Whenever you write, a part of yourself goes into the characters no matter how hard you try not to because all you have is your experience to go on. That is why I like to ask questions to other people about certain circumstances(makes for some weird looks) and what they would do.
    Last edited by Wendigo_49; 10-19-2005 at 03:40 PM.
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    Lady of Smilies Nightshade's Avatar
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    wait I thought dickens wrote to illistrate a point like Horatio Alger jr??
    And L.M alcott wrote simply for the money.
    I think The writers personal beliefs and philosphies alwasy end up coming across sooner or later but wheter literature is dilbertae philosphy I dont know maybe.. sometimes..
    perhaps that statement is too general?
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    Voice of Chaos & Anarchy
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    Literature reflects philosophy

    Quote Originally Posted by MiSaNtHrOpE
    Is literature a form of philosophy? Instead of engaging in a debate about certain topics, authors of literature write naratives to illustrate their points. I, personally, believe that a lot of what I read about is, in fact, true about society. Do you believe that this qualifies as Philosophy?
    I think that I basically agree with the point that you tried to make, but I think that you said it backwards. Serious literature reflects the way of thinking, the philosophy, of the writer; I agree with you strongly there. Many philosophers, so-called, established their philosophy through fiction, someone already mentioned Ayn Rand, but Satre, Kafka, Eco, etc. But that doesn't make fiction philosophy; it makes fiction a vehicle for illustrating philosophy.

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    precious... subterranean's Avatar
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    Well said Peter. Literature is one of the tools, not only to philosophy, but also to politics, religions, science, economics, etc.


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    Voice of Chaos & Anarchy
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    Yes, Sub, It's almost funny that you mention science on that list. "The Golden Helix" by Theodore Sturgeon is about the molecule that runs cells, and it was published before the form of DNA was discovered. When geosynchros satelites were designed, they couldn't be patented, because A. C. Clarke had already described them in detail in fiction. And so on.

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    Katie
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    It all depends, doesn't it? I don't think you can say an author writes 'simply' for any one reason, as nightshade goes on to say other things seep through. It is almost impossible now to say why someone wrote someth, unless they have left notes/a diary behind. For example, lots of eighteenth century novellists who wrote "gothic literature" are now thought to have been misogynist in their views, or to have planned their work as some sort of moral guide/tale, with warnings about inappropriate behaviour (usually female!). Some of them probably just wrote because they liked the genre and had an idea.
    Most fantasy novels seem to be an adaptation of the traditional angels vs devils, and the amount of them with a character who can be described as a christ-figure, who has to sacrifice himself, or a part of himself, in order to save the world is vast (lord of the rings - frodo, wheel of time - rand etc). Did the authors all know that it was a sort of christian allegory, or is it just the way the genre works? Could there be a new fantasy novel now where there is not some sort of good vs evil plot, with a main hero and a main villain?

    I think that a lot of novels take on a sort of life of their own regardless of the writer, or, rather, that the story of the writer, rather than his views, become part of the work as a whole. Would Middlemarch still be studied as much if it was written by a man, or by a woman with a less interesting history?

    Everything depends on the perspective of the reader. There probably are philisophical authors, who meant to ponder larger issues, we can never really know if they meant to imply all the things that are read into their work. Perhaps it is more the readers that are philosophers rather than the literature.

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    No, I don't agree that literature can be classified as philosophy or not Western Philosophy at least. Philosophy is a body of knowledge that stretches back to Plato in ancient Greece. It is an academic subject, devoted to truth and wisdom. Whereas literature would better be defined as art although philosophical theories are to be found in some novels. Schopenhauer's ideas influenced writers like Thomas Mann, Thomas Hardy, Leo Tolstoy and many others.
    Last edited by Cafe Rob; 05-17-2007 at 02:58 AM.

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    Philosophy is the art of enlightenment: how to discover, examine and impart a point of view. How to communicate opinions and discoveries to others and thereby to invite responses and criticisms which, by development of thought, leads to a true understanding of a subject, even the purpose of life (but there may be no purpose beyond procreation).

    Man is gifted with a large brain. Big enough to ask the questions but often not big enough to know the answers. Too often, however, he is unaware of the questions. Much study, for instance, has been concentrated on religious studies which tended to crowd out consideration of the humanities which received little comment for a millennium or more. Only by striving for truth (what is truth? Clarity untrammelled by prejudice), can one find and achieve knowledge. It includes starting hares and splitting hairs; blind alleys and superhighways.

    Philosophy is not mere thought alone but any human communication (a conversation over lunch as well as a cerebral discussion at university). It includes literature, politics and science; any means by which humanity can be exposed to knowledge and discovery. It is also the distillation of individual thought gleaned from contact with the environment but this, without the opportunity to triangulate it with the views of others, can be imperfect. Communication is the essential ingredient; but the whole discussion must be directed towards the light rather than self delusion and self justification.

    The real problem of philosophy is how to know that the arguments have been misdirected or not. It is not sufficient to judge their compliance with the narrow field of current thinking, which itself may be erroneous, but necessary to apply wisdom to the conclusion in order to gauge its veracity. Unfortunately, wisdom is itself the product of the age and even the broadest of educations may be inadequate to create it.

    But, keep thinking! One day we may reach the goal of total knowledge even if we are meanime tossed about on the mountainous waves of ignorance. On the other hand, some may prefer the simplicity of innocence.

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    I think you can have philosophy that isn't literature - Kant, Heidegger, and other bad writers who might have something to say, or not (Rand). But I can't see how you can have literature without philosophy. Dickens' heroes are moral philosophers in action. Is there a better moral philosopher? I doubt there's a more interesting one (apart from Shakespeare...)

    Aldous Huxley tended to force philosophy into his novels, making them lesser novels. For great writers the philosophy is there, but is blended into an artistic whole. Montaigne is an interesting example, his essays are great literature, and philosophy is their main driving force throughout. Fortunately, it's interesting philosophy...

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    Asa Nisi Masa mayneverhave's Avatar
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    The ends of philosophy and literature are essentially different. Literature is art, it is mute, so to speak, and is an end unto itself. Literature doesn't say anything; it simply is, the way a sculpture, painting, or symphony simply is.

    Now philosophy may very well be literature, but that's a different issue.

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    Haribol Acharya blazeofglory's Avatar
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    I find both literature and philosophy are integrally one. I feel it more explicit when I read the Brothers Karamazov. Atlas Shrugged is another wonderful book wherein I find a blend of both.

    In great books of literature philosophy cannot be excluded

    “Those who seek to satisfy the mind of man by hampering it with ceremonies and music and affecting charity and devotion have lost their original nature””

    “If water derives lucidity from stillness, how much more the faculties of the mind! The mind of the sage, being in repose, becomes the mirror of the universe, the speculum of all creation.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mayneverhave View Post
    The ends of philosophy and literature are essentially different. Literature is art, it is mute, so to speak, and is an end unto itself. Literature doesn't say anything; it simply is, the way a sculpture, painting, or symphony simply is.

    Now philosophy may very well be literature, but that's a different issue.
    Some philosophers say that the purpose of philosophy is to help one live a happy life. Some people say that literature make one happier, and I have certainly found that to be the case. So if the ends of philosophy and literature are happiness, then how are they "essentially different"?

    How can literature, being based on the spoken word be mute?

    Is the end of literature to stimulate the writing of more books? maybe it's one end, but surely not one of the main ones. Dr Johnson suggested the main end was to make money, but he also aimed to amuse. Money and amusement are not sub-categories of literature, so how is literature an end in itself?

    Little great art *simply* is. It's all rather complicated...

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    Of Subatomic Importance Quark's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mal4mac View Post
    Some philosophers say that the purpose of philosophy is to help one live a happy life. Some people say that literature make one happier
    Maybe we need another thread that distinguishes philosophy from self-help.

    Quote Originally Posted by mal4mac View Post
    Dr Johnson suggested the main end was to make money, but he also aimed to amuse. Money and amusement are not sub-categories of literature, so how is literature an end in itself?
    Well, Johnson's personal life certainly suggests that the point of literature was making money--after all, he wrote Rasselas just to raise the funds to visit family. But, at least officially, his stance was that literature is about amusement and instruction.
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