Noah D. Arney

A career development professional's musings on books, education, politics, and cooking.



Fiction as Philosophy


This is based off of a short twitter thread.

Jay Dragon had a great twitter post the other day:

is there a term for when the particular conditions of a fantasy/fictional setting set up a particular philosophy? like how jack saint describes Sky High or how warhammer 40k’s setting self-justifies the imperium

https://twitter.com/jdragsky/status/1584229756656300032

It’s something that happens all the time in fiction, and always has. In a later tweet Jay mentioned Star Wars as a fictional universe where they avoid it.

The use of the Jedi/Sith as the counter argument works so well. Because although the Original Trilogy sets it up as the now lost Jedi were right about everything. But the prequels and Clone Wars, as well as sequels to a lesser extent (they aren’t great at philosophy), point out that both Jedi and Sith are wrong but in different ways and to different extents.

That’s important because in real life in the same way that you can’t say “this is the exact truth empirically determined and universally accepted”, you also can’t say “both sides are right in/from their perspectives” because if one person brings a salad to an all-meat BBQ night and another person brings a bag of shit they are both wrong, but in different ways.

We can debate the nature of or existance of a deity or reason to the universe because we don’t know and can’t know. Though some say that reality is knowable, no one says that reality is already fully known. That brings us to fictional worlds.

What do we call worlds where the reality is one-to-one with the dominant character worldview? I have a few ideas but it depends on what is happening.

  1. Reality doesn’t really align with the world-view, but the narrator thinks it does
    • That makes this an unreliable narrator, if the author intends it, then that’s fine, if the author doesn’t intend it, well too bad, they wrote an unreliable narrator without meaning to.
  2. Knowledge of the true worldview was broadly and explicitly explained by a deity
    • Perhaps we call this deus ex philosphia? If this has happened then what do the people who weren’t let in on the knowledge think?
  3. Reality is fully knowable and has become fully known via advanced science
    • Ok, so it’s science fiction, but I guess that means that we have a fully verified ontological positivism on our hands. Which is too bad because if all of the questions have been answered then there’s no more science left in the science fiction.
  4. If the author is doing this without understanding that they are doing it then we have a different issue
    • I’ve seen this called implied ideal, but really it’s just that the author has way too many unexamined biases and hasn’t realized that they are doing number 5.
  5. Finally what probably covers the majority of fiction that does this historically is that the author is aware of what they are doing and they’re doing it to explicitly imagine what would happen within that worldview if it were true
    • That makes this a thought experiment, which honestly is probably what we should call all of the versions, but only truly works if it is intentional.

I think I’ll leave it at that, because Thought Experiment probably covers most of the intentional uses and implied ideal covers those who are just writing their biases without realizing it. Where this gets complicated is who the narrator in the fiction is. If they are an omniscient or semi-omniscient narrator then if it is well written it should be thought experiment, if poorly written it will probably be implied ideal.

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