Philosophical novel

Philosophical novel

Philosophical novels are works of fiction in which a significant proportion of the novel is devoted to a discussion of 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 novels would include the so-called "novel of ideas", including a significant proportion of science fiction, utopian/dystopian novels, and Bildungsroman.

There is no universally acceptable definition of the philosophical novel, but certain novels would be of key importance in its history. Ibn Tufail's "Philosophus Autodidactus" (12th century),Jon Mcginnis, "Classical Arabic Philosophy: An Anthology of Sources", p. 284, Hackett Publishing Company, ISBN 0872208710.] Samar Attar, "The Vital Roots of European Enlightenment: Ibn Tufayl's Influence on Modern Western Thought", Lexington Books, ISBN 0739119893.] Ibn al-Nafis' "Theologus Autodidactus" (13th century)Muhsin Mahdi (1974), "The Theologus Autodidactus of Ibn at-Nafis" by Max Meyerhof, Joseph Schacht", "Journal of the American Oriental Society" 94 (2), p. 232-234.] and Voltaire's "Candide" (1759) are the first clear examples in literary history. Thomas Carlyle's "Sartor Resartus", Goethe's "Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship", Tolstoy's "War and Peace" and Sartre's "Nausea" are all canonical examples of the philosophical novel. Later examples would include such novels as Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" and "The Fountainhead", Aldous Huxley's "After Many a Summer" and "Island", as well as novels by Iris Murdoch and Anthony Burgess.

Novels that might qualify as philosophical novels in terms of subject matter but which proceed by non-discursive means (such as allegory) would be excluded. Richard Adams's "Watership Down", for example, would qualify as having social structures as its subject matter but would be excluded on the grounds that the exploration of these subjects is entirely inferred rather than being the subject of overt discussion or debate.


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