Philosophical fiction

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

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 philosophy. These might explore any facet of the human condition, including the function and role of society, the nature and motivation of human acts, the purpose of life, ethics or morals, the role of art in human lives, the role of experience or reason in the development of knowledge, whether there exists free will, or any other topic of philosophical interest. Philosophical fiction works would include the so-called novel of ideas, including some science fiction, utopian and dystopian fiction, and the Bildungsroman.

Philosophical fiction[edit]

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 and Friedrich Nietzsche. 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).

Author Name Date Notes
Augustine of Hippo De Magistro 4th century Early example
Abelard Dialogue of a Philosopher with a Jew and a Christian 12th century Early example
Ibn Tufail Hayy ibn Yaqdhan 12th century[1][2] Early example; explores the limits of natural theology and the Islamic concept of fitra.
Yehuda Halevi The Kuzari 12th century Early example
Thomas More Utopia 1516 Early example, first unambiguous example of utopian and dystopian fiction.
Voltaire Zadig 1747 Early example
Voltaire Micromegas 1752
Voltaire Candide 1759 Early example
Samuel Johnson Rasselas 1759
Jean-Jacques Rousseau Julie, or the New Heloise 1761 Early example
James Hogg The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner 1824
Walter Pater Marius the Epicurean 1885
Thomas Carlyle Sartor Resartus 1833–34 Canonical
Fyodor Dostoevsky Crime and Punishment 1866 Canonical
Goethe Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship 1795–96 Canonical
Leo Tolstoy War and Peace 1869 Canonical
Giacomo Leopardi Small Moral Works 1827 Philosophical stories that were greatly enjoyed even by Arthur Schopenhauer.
Robert Musil The Man Without Qualities 1930–43 Canonical
Milan Kundera The Unbearable Lightness of Being 1984
Aldous Huxley After Many a Summer 1939
Aldous Huxley Brave New World 1932 A critique on the conflict between the human element and animal nature of man as well as the manipulative use of psychological conditioning.
Aldous Huxley Island 1962
C. S. Lewis Space Trilogy 1938, 1943, 1945
Søren Kierkegaard Diary of a Seducer 1843 A novel in the highly literary philosophical work Either/Or.
Friedrich Nietzsche Thus Spoke Zarathustra 1885 Well-known example of a modern philosophical novel.
Leo Tolstoy Resurrection 1899
Samuel Beckett Waiting for Godot 1952 One of the most well-known philosophical plays of the twentieth century.
Louis-Ferdinand Céline Journey to the End of the Night 1932
Marcel Proust In Search of Lost Time 1913–1927
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry The Little Prince 1943
André Malraux Man's Fate 1933
Thomas Mann The Magic Mountain 1924
Franz Kafka The Trial 1925
George Orwell Animal Farm 1945 A fable on the process of communism represented through animals on a farm.
B. F. Skinner Walden Two 1948
George Orwell Nineteen Eighty-Four 1949 A critique of totalitarianism as well as a discourse on the manipulative use of language.
Anthony Burgess A Clockwork Orange 1962 A discussion of the role of free will in the context of the application of behaviorism's techniques.
Philip K. Dick Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? 1968
John Gardner Grendel 1971 An exploration of various philosophical perspectives on finding meaning in the world, the power of literature and myth, and the nature of good and evil. The protagonist is a literary proxy for Jean-Paul Sartre.
Philip K. Dick A Scanner Darkly 1977
Philip K. Dick VALIS 1981 A novel version of his longer non-fiction book The Exegesis, outlining his intense interest in the nature of reality, metaphysics and religion.
John Shirley The Other End 2011 A novel about the global effects of an externally implemented planetary higher-consciousness, and an "alternative apocalypse", in gnostic-influenced metaphysics advocating Krishnamurtian/Gurdjieffian style awakening.
Jean-Paul Sartre Nausea 1938
Jean-Paul Sartre No Exit 1944 An existentialist play outlining Sartrean philosophy.
Jean-Paul Sartre The Devil and the Good Lord 1951 An existentialist play outlining Sartrean philosophy.
Ralph Ellison Invisible Man 1952 Existentialism in America.
Simone de Beauvoir She Came to Stay 1943 An existential novel outlining Simone de Beauvoir's philosophy.
Simone de Beauvoir Les Bouches inutiles [fr] 1944 An existential play outlining Simone de Beauvoir's philosophy.
Simone de Beauvoir All Men are Mortal 1946 An existential novel outlining Simone de Beauvoir's philosophy.
Osamu Dazai No Longer Human 1948
Walker Percy The Moviegoer 1961 An existential novel outlining Søren Kierkegaard's philosophy.
Yukio Mishima The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea 1963
José Lezama Lima Paradiso (novel) 1966 Latin American Boom novel that explores desire in pre-revolution Cuba.
Robert M. Pirsig Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance 1974 Pirsig's Metaphysics of Quality
Renata Adler Speedboat 1976
Margaret Atwood The Handmaid's Tale 1985 Dystopian feminist novel
David Markson Wittgenstein's Mistress 1988 An experimental novel that demonstrates Wittgenstein's philosophy of language; stylistic similarities to Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.
Jostein Gaarder Sophie's World 1991
David Foster Wallace Infinite Jest 1996 Criticizes Poststructuralism/Postmodernism; influenced by Wittgenstein & Existentialism; introduces Metamodernism/Post-postmodernism.
Arthur Asa Berger Postmortem for a Postmodernist 1997 A murder mystery that explores postmodernism.
Gus Van Sant Pink 1997 Absurdism
Neal Stephenson Anathem 2008 Includes the philosophical debate between Platonic realism and nominalism.
André Alexis Fifteen Dogs 2015 Winner 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.
Eliezer Yudkowsky Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality 2015 Explores cognitive science, philosophy, rationalism, the scientific method
Most novels by Albert Camus Absurdism
Fiction by the Marquis de Sade 1740–1814 Atheism, Nihilism, Libertinism
Most novels by Franz Kafka Existential Nihilism
Most novels by Hermann Hesse 1904–53
The novels and short stories of Ursula K. Le Guin 1959-2018

Anarchism; Feminism; Socialism; Daoism

Most novels by Stanislaw Lem 1946–2005
Most novels by Ayn Rand 1934–82 Objectivism
Novels and Plays by Samuel Beckett 1938–1961 Absurdism/Quasi-quietism
Novels by Iris Murdoch 1953–97
Novels by Anthony Burgess 1956–93
Novels by Simone de Beauvoir Existentialism, feminism
Novels by Jean-Paul Sartre Existentialism
Novels by Andre Malraux
Novels by Marcel Proust[3]
Novels by Stendhal
Novels by Fyodor Dostoyevsky 1846–81 Existentialism
Novels by G. K. Chesterton 1874–1936
Novels by Clarice Lispector
The stories of Jorge Luis Borges Philosophical idealism, eternal recurrence, eternalism
The novels of Umberto Eco Semiotics
The novels of Rebecca Newberger Goldstein

Atheism; Feminism

Works by Franz Kafka Prize winners Kafkaesque Humanism and Existentialism

See also[edit]


  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)

External links[edit]