Philosophical fiction

Philosophical fiction refers to the class of works of fiction which devote a significant portion of their content to the sort of questions normally addressed in discursive philosophy. These might include the function and role of society, the purpose of life, ethics or morals, the role of art in human lives, and the role of experience or reason in the development of knowledge. Philosophical fiction works would include the so-called novel of ideas, including some science fiction, utopian and dystopian fiction, and the Bildungsroman.

Philosophical fiction
FeaturesSignificant proportion devoted to discussion of questions normally addressed in discursive philosophy
Novel of ideas

Philosophical fiction

This is only a list of some major philosophical fiction. For all philosophical novels, see Category:Philosophical novels.

There is no universally accepted definition of philosophical fiction, but a sampling of notable works can help to outline its history.

Some philosophers write novels, plays, or short fiction in order to demonstrate or introduce their ideas. Common examples include: Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Ayn Rand, Albert Camus, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Authors who admire certain philosophers may incorporate their ideas into the principal themes or central narratives of novels. Some examples include: The Moviegoer (Kierkegaard), Wittgenstein's Mistress (Wittgenstein), and Speedboat (post-structuralism).

A special case is that of Plato's Socratic dialogues. While possibly based on real events, such as the trial of Socrates, it is widely accepted that the dialogues were entirely Plato's creation. On the other hand, the "plots" of these dialogues consist of men discussing philosophical matters, so the degree to which they fall into what moderns would recognize as "fiction" is unclear.

St. AugustineDe Magistro4th centuryEarly example
AbelardDialogue of a Philosopher with a Jew and a Christian12th centuryEarly example
Ibn TufailPhilosophus Autodidactus12th century[1][2]Early example
Yehuda HaleviThe Kuzari12th centuryEarly example; Arabic
Thomas MoreUtopia1516Early example
VoltaireZadig 1747Early example
VoltaireCandide1759Early example
J.-J. RousseauJulie, or the New Heloise1761Early example
James HoggThe Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner1824
Walter PaterMarius the Epicurean1885
Thomas CarlyleSartor Resartus1833–34Canonical
GoetheWilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship1795–96Canonical
Leo TolstoyWar and Peace1869Canonical
Giacomo Leopardi Small Moral Works 1827 Philosophical stories that were greatly enjoyed even by Arthur Schopenhauer.
Robert MusilThe Man Without Qualities1930–43Canonical
Milan KunderaThe Unbearable Lightness of Being1984
Aldous HuxleyAfter Many a Summer1939
Aldous HuxleyIsland1962
C. S. LewisSpace Trilogy1938, 1943, 1945A critique of Stalinist-style socialism.
Søren KierkegaardDiary of a Seducer1843A novel in the highly literary philosophical work Either/Or.
Friedrich NietzscheThus Spoke Zarathustra1885Perhaps the most well-known example of a modern philosophical novel.
Leo TolstoyResurrection1899
Samuel BeckettWaiting for Godot1952One of the most well-known philosophical plays of the twentieth century.
Louis-Ferdinand CélineJourney to the End of the Night 1932
Marcel ProustIn Search of Lost Time1913–1927
Antoine de Saint-ExupéryThe Little Prince1943
André MalrauxMan's Fate1933
Thomas MannThe Magic Mountain1924
Franz KafkaThe Trial1925
George OrwellAnimal Farm1945
B. F. SkinnerWalden Two1948
George OrwellNineteen Eighty-Four1949A critique of totalitarianism as well as a discourse on the manipulative use of language.
Philip K. DickDo Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?1968
Philip K. DickA Scanner Darkly1977
Philip K. DickVALIS1981A novel version of his longer non-fiction book The Exegesis, outlining his intense interest in the nature of reality, metaphysics and religion.
Jean-Paul SartreNausea1938
Jean-Paul SartreNo Exit1944An existentialist play outlining Sartrean philosophy.
Jean-Paul SartreThe Devil and the Good Lord1951An existentialist play outlining Sartrean philosophy.
Ralph EllisonInvisible Man1952Existentialism in America.
Simone de BeauvoirShe Came to Stay1943An existential novel outlining Simone de Beauvoir's philosophy.
Neal StephensonAnathem2008Includes the philosophical debate between Platonic realism and nominalism.
Simone de BeauvoirLes Bouches inutiles1944An existential play outlining Simone de Beauvoir's philosophy.
Simone de BeauvoirAll Men are Mortal1946An existential novel outlining Simone de Beauvoir's philosophy.
Osamu DazaiNo Longer Human1948
Walker PercyThe Moviegoer1961An existential novel outlining Søren Kierkegaard's philosophy.
Jostein GaarderSophie's World1991
Yukio MishimaThe Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea1963
Robert M. PirsigZen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance1974Pirsig's Metaphysics of Quality
Renata AdlerSpeedboat1976
David MarksonWittgenstein's Mistress1988An experimental novel that demonstrates Wittgenstein's philosophy of language; stylistic similarities to Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.
David Foster WallaceInfinite Jest1996Criticizes Poststructuralism/Postmodernism; influenced by Wittgenstein & Existentialism; introduces Metamodernism/Post-postmodernism.
Arthur Asa BergerPostmortem for a Postmodernist1997A murder mystery that explores postmodernism.
André AlexisFifteen Dogs2015Winner of the 2015 Scotiabank Giller Prize, this novel explores faith, place, love, power and hatred through the eyes and experiences of fifteen dogs endowed with human intelligence.
Most novels by Albert CamusAbsurdism
Fiction by the Marquis de Sade1740–1814Atheism, Nihilism, Libertinism
Most novels by Franz KafkaExistential Nihilism
Most novels by Hermann Hesse1904–53
Most novels by Stanislaw Lem1946–2005
Most novels by Ayn Rand1934–82Objectivism
Plays by Samuel Beckett1938–1961Absurdism
Novels by Iris Murdoch1953–97
Novels by Anthony Burgess1956–93
Novels by Simone de BeauvoirExistentialism, feminism
Novels by Jean-Paul SartreExistentialism
Novels by Andre Malraux
Novels by Marcel Proust[3]
Novels by Stendhal
Novels by Fyodor Dostoyevsky1846–81Existentialism
Novels by G. K. Chesterton1874–1936
Novels by Clarice Lispector
The stories of Jorge Luis BorgesPhilosophical idealism, eternal recurrence, eternalism
The novels of Umberto EcoSemiotics
The novels of Rebecca Newberger Goldstein

Atheism; Feminism

See also


  1. Jon Mcginnis, Classical Arabic Philosophy: An Anthology of Sources, p. 284, Hackett Publishing Company, ISBN 0-87220-871-0.
  2. Samar Attar, The Vital Roots of European Enlightenment: Ibn Tufayl's Influence on Modern Western Thought, Lexington Books, ISBN 0-7391-1989-3.
  3. Joshua Landy, Philosophy As Fiction: Self, Deception, and Knowledge in Proust, Oxford University Press (2004)
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