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M. Suárez

Wonderful post on the philosophical virtues of fiction, to which I would add that the particular type of counterfactuals invited and enacted by fiction (namely: what my life would look like from the point of an _involved_ or interested spectator, what the rationality of my choices would seem to be to such an spectator, what my intentions would be judged to be) do not render a sort of distant knowledge by description of ourselves typical of 'spectator theories of knowledge' but exactly the opposite. They provide the sort of intimate knowledge of ourselves and each other that can only be gained through real experiential involvement. This is precisely where I would put the difference between good fiction that relates to one's own life experience (and Marías is a master of this sort of fiction, but really think of any of the classics), and a corresponding or seemingly equivalent philosophical 3rd person analysis of the characters' mental or attitude states. The fiction involves the reader directly in the experience in a way that no 3rd person account is able to do. It is somewhat ironic that we all learn so much about ourselves and who we really are through good fiction...


As a Smith-ian, I'm not sure why you would worry about this. If we think of sympathy as imagining oneself in another person's situation, then this is a harmless imaginatve exercise as there's nothing evil about even the evil person's situation...

Eric Schliesser

Thank you, Mauricio. I was going to introduce a distinction between, say, scientific thought experiments (or the thought experiments that populate philosophy journal articles) and the kind of thig Marias is pointing to, but I am glad I didn't. You get at it more directly.
One small possible addition: Marias also seems to suggest that prior to reading a novel, we may not have intimate knowledge of ourselves--rather we tend to be very displaced from ourselves.

Eric Schliesser

Bence, I think your version of Smith may underestimate the situation.

M. Suárez

yes, of course, and after reading the novel we may still have a long way to go … ! I think my point is only that the sort of corresponding philosophical 3rd person account of a good fiction would not give you even this small inkling of transformative knowledge. One bit of fiction that comes to my mind is Don Quijote's late realization in Cervantes' book of his own insanity. I reread it recently and it is still nowadays incredibly powerful in forcing you, the reader, to confront your own dissociations to reality. No philosophical literature I have read on cognitive dissonance or the mind body problem or skepticism about other minds or any other thing seems to come close to this sort of insight.

Eric Schliesser

I agree with you, Mauricio, but I also want to say that maybe we should not underestimate what philosophical literature could be? One reason why I am fascinated by Coetzee, Grunberg, and now Marias is that these novelists seem to be saying to us, philosophers, to be more ambitious with our philosophizing.
Yes, the last few chapters of Don Quijote are astounding in so many ways. So many reasons to learn Spanish!

M. Suárez

yes, that's a good way to look at it as an invitation to bring in some of these fictional techniques into our philosophizing. And indeed the literature on scientific thought experiments does to some extent show that scientists can do this, so why could not philosophers? One good attempt I know is Bas Van Fraassen's attempt to articulate a pragmatist theory of explanation through a fictional parable in The Scientific Image. Have you come across it? Whatever the merits of the theory, I find the attempt inspiring …

Eric Schliesser

Yes, Mauricio. In fact, I am very intrigued by the role of what David Lewis calls "good myths" in philosophy, including analytical philosophy.

Radical Metaphor

It's an intriguing idea and possible there is even more at stake than developing more perspective, sympathy or self-knowledge. In 'Inventing Human Rights' Lynn Hunt argues that the development of the novel is central to the idea of 'secular identification'; this allows a new kind of conceptual framework for the idea of universal human rights to emerge.

"Human rights could only flourish when people learned to think of others as their equals, as like them in some fundamental fashion."

M. Suarez

And of course Rousseau's influential views on natural human capacities and ensuing rights were also introduced in the form of a fiction. When you begin to think about it there are myriad ways in which good fiction has turned out to be indispensable to critical parts of much influential philosophical argument through the ages.

Someone should write a history of the uses of fiction in philosophy. I wish I had the historical breadth for such an undertaking. Perhaps you, Eric?

Eric Schliesser

Thank you for calling attention to Hunt's work. (I am more familiar with her work on the history of epistemology.) Human rights are very important (although I would point to the significance of Christian ideas, too, in their genesis). But you may underestimate what is at stake in my post, which also aims to point to the political significance of displacement from self.

Eric Schliesser

Mauricio, I have written a paper on what I call "philosophical prophecy," which is meant to capture forms of philosophizing (including fictions) that are not (in roughly Plato's sense) Logos. See: Schliesser, E. (2013). Philosophic Prophecy. in *Philosophy and Its History: Aims and Methods in the Study of Early Modern Philosophy,* (Oxford: OUP) 209ff.
But it is programmatic and schematic, not a proper history.

M. Suárez

Thanks Eric, if you have a preprint can you please post it, or send it over? Thanks! M

M. Suárez

Incidentally, on the topic of fiction in scientific modeling I've already written a fair amount and edited a book: *Fictions in Science: Philosophical Essays on Modeling and Idealization*, Routledge, 2009. I'd be interested in your reactions.

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